Home Estate Planning The Debate: Is International Women’s Day patronising?

The Debate: Is International Women’s Day patronising?

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City A.M.’s weekly feature takes the fiercest water-cooler debates and pits two candidates head to head before delivering The Judge’s ultimate verdict.

International Women’s Day: Is it patronising?

Yes: IWD is run like a PR day for girl power

Ella Whelan is a freelance journalist and commentator

Of all the years I might go a little soft on International Women’s Day (IWD), it’s 2024. At least 64 countries will be holding elections – the biggest voting year in history. Political parties will be setting out their stall on a range of issues – including those affecting women. Childcare provision, abortion rights, wages, maternity care – these are all areas in which women need radical change to live equal lives to men. Using a day of publicity and press coverage to draw attention to these issues could weaponise some useful pressure.

Unsurprisingly, the International Women brigade has squandered this opportunity. Instead of making a meaningful case for women’s freedom, their ‘theme’ for 2024 is to ‘inspire inclusion’ and ‘to celebrate diversity and empowerment’. What this means is anyone’s guess – the official website suggests more women in leadership would be the panacea for womankind’s ills.

What no one wants to admit is that we have plenty of women in leadership – but they do nothing with their power. International Women’s Day, and the professional feminists who sing its praises, are content with it remaining a PR day for girl power. They have no need to concern themselves with the strains and stresses of working-class women’s lives, and no desire to tackle the material challenges still blocking women’s freedom. 

The battle for women’s liberation is a serious one – and it cannot be won with a day of back-slapping. It’s time to stop the patronising girl’s play, and start the campaign for real freedom.

Tonia Antoniazzi is Labour MP for the Gower

No: IWD is a call to action on a global scale

If IWD consisted of nothing more than group shouts of “girl power”, it would be fair enough to view it as patronising. Yet this isn’t the case, and such an outlook mistakenly narrows the day’s purpose and power. 

Ideally, IWD wouldn’t need to exist. In a world where women and men lived in true unassailable parity, accusations of the day being condescending would probably ring true. 

One doesn’t have to search extensively to understand that this ideal couldn’t be further from reality. We live in a world where women and girls face entrenched disadvantages and inequalities in a multitude of disturbing ways, including femicide, violence against women and girls, child marriage, exclusion from education and the disproportionate impact of poverty. 

If we are to tackle female inequality, we must understand it. It’s important to recognise positive developments, but IWD is about so much more than celebration. Fundamentally, it’s about raising awareness – bringing the reality of women’s experiences to the fore, recognising how the rights of women and the issues they face vary globally, and amplifying the further action that needs to be taken to address systemic inequalities. 

It’s a call to action on a global scale. One that sees significant activity worldwide as communities collaborate to demand change for women. 

Of course, none of this should be confined to just one day. But the more we’re discussing the relevance of IWD, the more we’re talking about the issues facing women and girls. 

It’s not patronising to demand change when change is so desperately needed.

The Verdict: An imperfect tool that’s been coopted by companies, but a tool all the same

International Women’s Day (IWD) was spawned in the early days of Soviet Russia as a march, a protest and indeed oftentimes a strike. The Bolsheviks gave women and men the day off to celebrate “in commemoration of the outstanding merits of Soviet women in communistic construction” etc, etc.  

The slogan didn’t get anywhere near the blue-tinged printer ink of the United Nations until 1967 when it started to be coopted by second-wave feminists in the West. Activism, again, was the name of the game, with abortion rights, contraception, divorce laws and sexism issues at hand – and indeed life-changing gains were quickly made.

But the grubby hands of capitalism, which City A.M. absolutely condones, got its hands all over IWD. Nowadays, you’re less likely to see a placard-waving feminist calling for free period products in public toilets than you are to see a pair of white jeans with embroidered-on “period blood” for sale at a special IWD price of £699. Companies use it to flog products to women and allies, for general brand-building, and perhaps even as part of their ESG strategies. In the style of Mother’s Day, some heterosexual boyfriends now feel obliged to buy their girlfriends nuts and flowers to celebrate their… gender.

Both our contestants recognise the potential of International Women’s Day to make a real difference world wide. They also both espouse the idea of hyper-capitalist, ultra-shallow girl power. They are clearly in agreement, though, that the day holds some potential to garner political change in a global landscape of uneven inequality. Whilst it’s easy to sit in an office in the West and eye-roll about patronising IWD-themed cupcakes, there are countries which lack the legislative changes we enjoy.

Whilst the very concept of the day harks back to hardcore communism, the values of which this paper proudly repudiates, overall it cannot be denied that IWD has been a useful tool in furthering women’s rights. 

IWD is far from a perfect tool in the pro-gender-equality arsenal, and we should be mindful of its shift from a social movement to a consumerist, glittery pink buy-fest but overall it has done, and probably will continue to do, more good than harm.

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