As a former pupil at a single sex school, I remember all too well the buzz around International Women’s Day. We would all be sitting in the assembly hall and representatives from the school would be telling us how this day was ‘for us’ and how amazing we are as individuals. We would be told the stories about the great women of the world – Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, and how we too could achieve great things like these figures. This assembly would follow the same format, year after year on or around the 8th March and I remember sitting there as a 13-year-old, admiring these women and truly believing that I could be like them when I grew up.
Fast forward to now, and we still hear the stories of Marie Curie, Rosa Parks and Mother Theresa, amongst others, on International Women’s Day, which is great, of course. Except, why do we feel the need to shine the light on these women on every March 8th – shouldn’t we be celebrating and telling stories about women every day?
According to the history books, the first observance of a ‘Women’s Day’ was in New York in the early 1900s, set up by the Socialist Party of America and then by 1914 on Sunday 8th March, the first International Women’s Day took place in Germany in 1914. At that time, the day was largely used to promote social movements such as women’s right to vote. And there’s no doubt that over the years International Women’s Day has been and will continue to be successful in promoting inequality issues and helping women have a voice.
But the problem we see with the modern International Women’s Day is that it feels like it’s the only day of the year where we see or hear about women doing amazing things, whereas in reality, women are doing incredible things every day. Last year, for example, when the English men’s football team reached the semi-finals during the World Cup, we saw headlines saying that it was the first time England had reached the semi-final in 28 years, when in fact, England had come third place in 2015. The difference? It was the women’s football team who achieved third place in 2015, yet the newspapers decided not to mention that.
Then there’s the marketing side. Companies and brands will choose to promote products and services that are aimed at women on International Women’s Day. And whilst we all love a freebie or discount, it totally defeats the purpose of the day that the women in Germany worked so hard to set out back in 1914.
Whilst I’m grateful for my school for embracing International Women’s Day and for teaching me the stories about great women, it’s important that we remember why the day was created in the first place. Let’s not make the modern International Women’s Day a marketing campaign or a reason to rejoice in all the wonderful women. We should stop treating International Women’s Day as a ‘special day’ for women and learn to celebrate women on all the other 364 days of the year too.