Do we need International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day has come around again.  We know this because each year at the beginning of March, you’d think that the topic of women and their rights had been newly discovered.  For a few days prior to the actual day, 8th March, the media seem suddenly to be fascinated by everything about women – what has happened to them over the previous year, reflections on various gender incidents and examples of sexism etc. with article after article taking the opportunity to comment on the condition of women (whether pro- or anti-). Here in Scotland the huge increase in domestic violence reported after a bad-tempered match between Celtic and Rangers, led to heightened discussion and (I hope) awareness of the damage that certain forms of masculinity are capable of.

However, the day seems at the same time  to be losing its political edge as various companies are moving in, now seeing the day mainly as an opportunity to offer (or sell)  so-called women’s therapies such as spas, massages, cosmetic treatments and the like – with gender reduced to an invitation for women to pamper themselves.

However there is some serious discussion, with journalists such as Mariella Frostrup of The Observer offering important reflections on the existing situation for women both in the UK and in other parts of the world.  For feminists working in education where gender now seems to be equated pretty much solely with boys’ doing badly in exams, it is salutary to be reminded of some of the current statistics on girls and women.  Readers of this website are probably as aware of, as I am, of the ongoing struggles on behalf of girls and women.  However, we should still be shocked by the following. Worldwide:

  • 64% of the illiterates are women
  • Two thirds of the children are denied education are girls
  • 41 million girls are denied education
  • Gender-based violence causes more deaths and disabilities among women aged 15-44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war
  • 60 million girls are sexually assaulted at or en route to school
  • 75% of civilians killed in war are women and children – – ‘It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict’ (UN peacekeeper Patrick Cammaert).  David Cameron needs to remember this when talking up the need for a no-fly zone in Libya.

In the UK, specifically,

  • 700,000 people (90% of whom are females) experience domestic violence
  • Equal pay is almost as distant as it as when the Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1975
  • Conviction for rape cases hovers at around 6-7%
  • 12% of the company board members are women
  • There are more people in the government called Dave and Nick than there are women MPs
  • 19% of MPs are women

Frostrup expresses rage at the fact that these statistics cause hardly a stir, and that a common response to the existence of International Women’s Day is that it is discriminatory against men. Her own response to what she sees in the world and her relative privilege as a well-known journalist and TV presenter is to set up Great – the Gender Rights and Equality Action Trust with other celebs such as Annie Lennox, Bono and Damon Albarn. In so doing Frostrup asserts that she is part of  ‘a new wave of support sweeping from the developed to the developing world through women joining forces and rolling up their sleeves to lend a hand’ (p21).

Be that as it may, if International Women’s Day shines a light on women’s lives that otherwise would be missing, that is surely no bad thing.  And using it as an excuse for a massage might not be such a bad idea either.

Gaby Weiner (GEA Chair)


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