So you want to celebrate International Women’s Day!
Who doesn’t?! It’s the day of the year where we really get to honour the history of women’s fight for labour rights and the important role protest played in making this happen! Or, we don’t… There are of course many ways to celebrate International Women’s Day, but whatever your format, your celebration won’t be worth its salt unless the below principles are in action.
ONE. If you’re inviting any external speakers to your event: PAY THEM.
You’d think that it would be obvious to everyone that you cannot honour a day about challenging gender injustice and then engage in the unjust practice of not paying people for their labour. But it happens ALL. THE. TIME. Especially when the majority of speakers for IWD are women, not paying them for their labour (including the time it takes to prepare to be a keynote or on a panel, along with travel, subsistence and accommodation where relevant) is basically saying that on IWD you’re committed to contributing to the gender wealth gap. This is extremely bad behaviour, and entirely unnecessary. If you or your company don’t think women’s labour is valuable, do not have an IWD event. No ifs, no buts. Simple.
TWO. We do not need an all white panel on International Women’s Day.
This is a rule for life of course, not just IWD. Far too often, however, the mainstream conversations about women’s experiences are dominated by ‘default woman’ who is white. Our ability to drive forward inclusion will not be possible without a reappraisal of which women’s stories and voices we choose to prioritise, believe and act upon as we seek to drive forward gender justice in our workplaces. We cannot do anti-sexism if we aren’t doing anti-racism. And Kimberlé Crenshaw, the mother of intersectionality, is the scholar-activist you need to know to take this further in your practice: read her work; deploy her analysis.
THREE. Ensure belonging is prioritised across all your planning.
Belonging means many things: it means that disabled folk can freely participate as audience members and panellists/keynote speakers. It means that your ticket pricing has a scale where there are lower priced and free options for those otherwise unable to attend. It means that there are spaces for those who suffer in high energy intensity spaces for long periods of time. It means asking people for their preferred pronouns in the space, and using them. It means dietary requirements have been taken into account. It means prayer rooms. It means childcare facilities. It means gender neutral toilets. And more.
Include this thinking upfront in your planning. And if you don’t know what to do a) google it and b) bring in consultants and experts who can help — and pay them well for their time making your event better.
FOUR. Ensure the content and nature of the conversation extends beyond mentoring schemes.
Designing a world that affords those marginalised by its current parametres legitimacy, dignity, freedom, safety and belonging requires a profound shift in how we understand these problems.
When we examine the world and determine that it is women who require something extra to succeed — and that it is a mentor — then we have profoundly misdiagnosed the problem.
Robust and transformative discussions on IWD will identify the structural and by-design nature of the status quo. They will acknowledge the differential power relations between and among women. They will see where we are today as part of a historical process. They will recognise the ways in which inequities overlap and interconnect in ways that mark women’s experience as different to one another. They will be trans inclusive. They will build collective strength and solidarity in the face of those differences and because of them. And they may even (!) make demands for what they need from their organisations and institutions for deep change.
FIVE. Do we really need to provide men with a platform on today of all days?
A common refrain we hear from people planning IWD events is: ‘we don’t want to be exclusionary and we want men to know that they have a role in gender equality and so we want to celebrate them’.
Friends, let us return to the point of IWD. It is one day a year that has been marked out on the calendar because for the other 364 days of the year women are not centred across society.
So taking the refrain in turn:
- It is not exclusion when you’re part of a group (men) that has privilege and is afforded power societally and need to take a step back for one day.
- It is not for women to extend invites to men to attend the ‘let’s act for gender justice party’. There are in fact no bouncers on the door to this party — unlike the metaphorical bouncers at the door blocking women’s participation to our parliamentary process, boardrooms, and major institutions. And that’s just the politics of representation. If you want to do the work for gender justice, you just decide and you can start. No invite necessary.
- As such, we do not need to celebrate men who do seem to care. As many people before me have said, you do not get a cookie for recognising people’s humanity. That is too low a bar, and we can do better.
A true ally would probably reject being celebrated anyway — so maybe that’s the test.
IWD can be a powerful day for mobilising for deep change, but if we don’t work to the basics for the ‘celebration’ part right, we are going nowhere fast.