International Women’s Day 2017 – What does it mean for you?

For the majority of my life, the 8th March each year was marked by two bouquets of flowers being brought home by my Polish father – one for my mother and a smaller one for me. My father explained that the flowers were to mark International Women’s Day – a special day when women were thanked for their contribution to their families and to their communities. At such an early age, and even with exceptional role models, I hadn’t yet grasped the fact that for centuries, women had had to fight for equal rights, equal pay, equal treatment and equal opportunities. I didn’t understand the barriers that often held (and in some cases still hold) women back from having their voices heard. I had not as yet learned that only a generation before mine, women were often forced to leave their jobs after they married, that women had little rights over their reproductive choices and could not open a personal bank account without their husband’s consent. The scourge of domestic violence was still something no one ever talked about, let alone do anything to change.

International Women’s Day has its roots in political activism – starting with the support for striking female garment workers in North America at the beginning of the twentieth century and quickly spreading during WWI to become the cornerstone of the peace movement in Europe. It was heavily featured during the suffrage movement in the UK and some say was the catalyst for the February Revolution in Russia.

Thanks to the bold and courageous efforts of countless women (and men) who bravely challenged the status quo over the course of the last century, many women around the world today enjoy the rights that would have been unthinkable only a few short generations ago. Due to these advancements, many feel that equality has been achieved and the struggles that our grandmothers had to overcome are a thing of the past.

However, when we scratch the surface of our western and (predominantly white) privilege, we see that although real advancements have been made to close the gender gap, there are many communities of women that still today have minimal access to education, healthcare, legal representation and economic empowerment. There are still countless women who are not encouraged to think, speak or act for themselves. On average, one woman a week is still killed in Australia by a partner or ex-partner in domestic violence situations. And although the social justice aspect of this issue cannot be ignored, the economic impact to countries, communities and corporations of holding women back is vast.

According the World Economic Forum, the gender gap will not be erased for at least the next 169 years. To any reasonable person capable of understanding the scope of this number, this is not good enough. And although this isn’t great news for women, it is equally as depressing for men. By encouraging more women to participate in the workforce and the community more broadly, this in turn frees up men from the pressures of male stereotypes to allow them to meet their own goals and aspirations as fathers, husbands and colleagues. Gender equity isn’t a zero-sum game. Creating opportunities for women, doesn’t mean taking away opportunities for men. What is beneficial to women, is also beneficial to men, families and the broader community.

Therefore, on the eve of this year’s International Women’s Day, we should all take stock of where we are and where we want to be in terms of the gender gap and be bold in our voices and actions to drive positive and sustainable change.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we at Optimiss have reached out to friends and colleagues to let us know what this day means to them and what they are planning to do to celebrate it. You can read their stories and thoughts here.