Traction to action: International Women’s Day

March 7, 2014

It has been astonishing to see how Australia has engaged with our international day for women in 2014. I am struck by the extraordinary number of events that continue to be held this week and into next, to celebrate and acknowledge women. I also notice a profound shift in the diversity and scale of who is engaging in International Women’s Day. Across companies and communities, councils and parliaments alike, we have the choice and invitation to join events and functions in workplaces, fancy hotels, corporate offices, public squares, community buildings, restaurants and auditoriums. I think it is reasonable to say that International Women’s Day has become a mainstream event.

There is something incredibly exciting about the breadth and choices before us for this important day. There is more traction with media and workplaces than ever before to raise our voice and issues. But is this traction linked to action?Maybe we should be locking in a principle of practice – that for every workplace event held across our country there is a measurable outcome in advancing women’s lives by resourcing women’s issues, or gender equality initiatives that address discriminatory practice or behaviours.

I wonder if the popularism surrounding International Women’s Day comes with some risk? As we know, International Women’s Day is expressed differently across the world, but in Australia its foundations are solidly based around rights, equality, empowerment and justice. Our actions have been about challenging discrimination or demanding equal pay for equal work. International Women’s Day has been about those matters. Gender equality matters. Are we slipping sideways by mainstreaming this event to a space that risks looking and feeling more like Mother’s Day? Is it enough to do something ‘nice’ to mark the day? Is it enough for companies to invest in functions that enable women to celebrate during office hours if the conditions and opportunities for women’s advancement in those same workplaces do not change the following day as a demonstration of commitment to equality? Have we placed ourselves into such a flurry of events addressing women’s rights or gender equality that we find ourselves competing to attract audiences? This can’t be right.

From our little patch on the planet at IWDA, I believe it is timely for the women’s organisations in our city to have a talk about what next year looks like in celebrating International Women’s Day. For the thousands of hours and dollars spent by every team to arrange every event that usually falls within a 5 day window, I wonder if there is not a more efficient or empowering way to share our stories and voice our priorities?

For me, International Women’s Day is about feminism – not femininity. One does not exclude the other, but I am concerned that with all the excitement and fabulous traction that International Women’s Day now seems to bring to our society and workplaces, we are in danger of losing sight of what this day is actually about. This is not just a day to express our admiration for or about women; this is a day of action, a day to commit to women’s economic, social and politicalrights.

Yes, let’s celebrate! Yes, let’s embrace our identity and skills. Yes, let’s express determination to work together for gender equality – but let’s not slip into rhetoric rather than reality. Let’s not lose sight of who are the genuine champions of change, and let’s be certain that this traction leads to action.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Join Joanna Hayter on Twitter – @IWDAExec – and share your ideas for #tractiontoaction.