March 8th is International Women’s Day (IWD), a global day to highlight the role of women in society, families, and the world—with a focus on women’s rights.
Each year the IWD movement organizers ask us to support a cause. This year, the theme is #EmbraceEquity with the following specific goals: To “challenge bias and inequality, campaign against violence, forge women’s advancement, celebrate women’s achievement, and champion women’s education.” IWD 2023’s campaign theme aims to get the world talking about why “equal opportunities are no longer enough.”
What is International Women’s Day?
History of International Women’s Day
The first Women’s Day was celebrated in 1909 in the U.S. In 1911, the day was celebrated in Europe in support of women’s rights and universal suffrage. International Women’s Day as we know it was proclaimed by the UN in 1975.
Though Women’s Day has been celebrated in some form for over a century, gender equality is far from near. According to the World Economic Forum, gender equality will not be achieved before 2186. This doesn’t just penalize women, but also negatively impacts the entire society. A 2015 McKinsey Global Institute study found that global GDP could increase by $12 trillion by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. Therefore, equity isn’t just something we should all wish for—in 2023, it’s a must-have. A focus on gender equity needs to be part of every society.
Equality v. Equity
It’s important to understand the difference between equity and equality, as these two words are often used interchangeably. Etymologically, the root of both words comes from the Latin aequus, meaning “even,” “fair,” or “equal.” But equity originates from the Latin aequitas, and equality from aequalitas. Equity and equality are inherently different concepts.
Equality means that each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. On the other hand, equity recognizes bio-diversity, or that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the resources and opportunities they need to reach an equal outcome. Instead of each individual getting the same thing, they get what they need to reach the same success.
What if we were all given equal value now? What if every gender had the same access to a good wage, mutual respect, safety, and the opportunity for advancement solely based on our work and our individual needs? Some people think that women already have this. They think a woman, or someone who does not identify as male, has just as many rights as their male counterparts. However, this is absolutely not the case, especially outside of the Western world.
Why we need this day of women’s rights
Sexism is a fact, and something all of us face on a daily basis. I am lucky enough to have jobs where I am paid based on what I put on the table, which is the same as any male colleagues. How much money I earn in a day is entirely dependent upon my capabilities, and I am treated with equality. But it wasn’t always so. While working corporate jobs for over a decade before I made a change in my career, my salary was diminished to 74% of what I could have made as a man. Some male colleagues even received a higher salary despite being in lower-level positions, but of course (wonder why?) we were not allowed to discuss such matters. If any of us would bring up such a thing, we’d probably get some kind of punishment, if not fired.
Not to mention that on an average day, people view women as less competent. Women are subject to being cat-called, and are more likely to be objectified—though I have witnessed it happening to male co-workers as well. Employers see women as disposable or as a “bad investment,” as once I heard, due to our potential for taking time off to raise children. People take it for granted that we will be kind instead of assertive during conflict or in meetings. In 2023, we can do a better job, can’t we?
It is no longer just women supporting women. Non-binary people and men have joined forces to support equal rights as well. Many of us are realizing that having empowered, successful women in the world will be a gift to us all. And to be frank, “woman” means many things today. It doesn’t just mean “born with a vagina” anymore. There is nuance in the world, and gender has become a wide spectrum. Regardless of how we think about gender, each one of us can actively support and embrace equity within our own sphere of influence. We can all challenge gender stereotypes, call out discrimination, draw attention to bias, and seek out inclusion.
I don’t know about other countries, but in my home country of Hungary, IWD is treated as some kind of second Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, when we get flowers, cards, and chocolates from male co-workers. While it’s nice to celebrate women, that’s not the raison d’être for the day. International Women’s Day is not a day to be rewarded with small gifts for juggling family, school, work, and household tasks all at once. IWD is a day to foster women’s equity in the world. We should all support and encourage each other, and work to address the daily challenges we face on our path to success.
Let’s go beyond what we have already done to support gender equality and equity. We need to change how we see women. Perspective, I believe, is the most powerful tool a person can have. When we can change our views as a collective, we can then alter the world.
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Photo: Lona via Unsplash