How to: When the International Women’s Day is Coming

It is Sunday, it’s raining in Brussels and every speechwriter is raking their brains for something original to say about the International Women’s Day the coming week. This includes me, because I will be speaking at a Women’s Day Gala on Friday. So far my preparations include looking at my reference book, which I strategically placed to provide inspiration about a month ago. I also bought a moisturising mask for my face.

Words written: 0.

How to survive the short, yet intense, universal acknowledgement of the female sex on the 8 March? 

1. Awkward office situations

In one of my previous workplaces we had a tradition of the men of the office handing out roses to the women of the office on Women’s Day. Everybody carved 10 minutes from their pretend busy schedules, shuffled to the meeting room, and us ladies stood in line like some unwilling beauty pageants, waiting for our male colleagues to hand each of us a rose, which was then followed by the Finnish version of a hug, which tries to avoid any bodily contact. Few words were uttered during the proceedings, which was just as well.

We then returned each to our cubicle. Day went on as any other day at the office. 

There’s no etiquette for Women’s Day celebrations at workplace. No-one knows what they are supposed to be doing. It is awkward for absolutely everybody. If you like to observe embarrassing social situations as they happen, this day will give excellent material for your PhD. If not, take the day off. 

2. Lame speeches

We have come a long way, but much more remains to be done for gender equality” will be the line to take of every single politician and the UN Secretary General on Friday. Women’s Day hashtags will be trending on social media, and the work of the communications gurus of all the international organisations of this world can finally be unleashed for us to marvel at for full 24 hours. Video-clips featuring women! Pictures of women! Quotes by women! Statements! Calls for action!  Oh, to be alive.

Just when you thought “Why, there’s so much going on on the gender equality front!” let me spoil it for you. All the statistical offices, OECDs, think tanks and equality ombudsmen the world over have been sitting on their latest findings and statistics on gender equality for months now. It’s a global conspiracy to publish everything on, or around 8 March. Because momentum.

However, the moment we need to draw attention to the gender pay gap is few weeks before Christmas when many women struggle to make ends meet for the upcoming end of year holiday period (food, presents, new festive clothing for the kids’ school parties). Want to raise awareness about domestic violence? Again, get the statistics out just before the main holiday periods, when many women are forced to escape their violent spouses to family homes and shelters. 

Publish every piece of evidence about economic inequalities between men and women on a quarterly basis, in sync with stock market announcements. Will make it easier to draw parallels between the economic growth, women in workforce and women’s access to financing.

Just a thought. 

3. Wisecrackers

Uh-oh, so, when’s the International Men’s Day?  It’s on 19 November. Mark you calendars. 

​- Can I buy you something or pay for something today? Would that be properly patronising, or should I also theatrically hold this door open for you? But just today love, mind!

– This office would be nothing without you, you wonderful ladies! How about we make a fun day of this Women’s Day and let the ladies chair all the meetings today, how’s that for a great idea?  

– That #MeToo -thing has totally gone too far. 

Take deep breaths. It’s only 24 hours. 

4. Check your privilege and celebrate all women

Feminism is not about individual women being able to make individual choices. No one cares whether you decide, in the name of feminism,  to put on makeup or not. Your choice of footwear or clothing is not going to make the world a safer, better-represented and more liberated place for women to live in.

Therefore never be shamed by people who claim that putting on makeup and wearing vertiginous heels means surrendering to patriarchy and not being a feminist. 

Feminism is not about the privileged few having the individual choice to do whatever they want if they really want to, because of the equality of opportunity. 

Feminism is combination of political and social movements with a common goal to define and demand political, social and fiscal rights for women. Feminism isn’t about wishes. It’s about actions. Doing nothing is doing something: it’s supporting the current injustices. Doing nothing and saying nothing is tacit support. 

Just the past week I read about the Argentinian 11-year old girl who was denied abortion and forced to give birth to her rapist’s child. I read about the young girls in Philippines who are daughters of European sex tourists who visit “Pueblo de los Angeles” for sex with Filipina women – their mothers. These women get paid on average €3 per night if they get paid at all. What about their equal opportunities? And those of their daughters?

We don’t even have to leave Europe to read similar stories. A trafficked ex-sex-worker is currently waiting for her expulsion from Finland following a highly complex choreography with government authorities, who finally could not quite decide where she and her young son should rebuild their lives, after years of residence in Finland as asylum-seekers  – except that this place was not to be Finland.

The Oscars also happened the past week. Even in the world of immense privilege the women don’t have equal opportunities. Despite having directed several films that were hailed as the best of the past year, not a single woman was nominated in the best director category. No one cares about getting the statue. What these women directors’ films lack as consequence is months of publicity as run up to the ceremony. With exposure come advertisers. And then the money. And there you have the full cycle of influence in the Western world, whose structures continue to discriminate against women.

Here you are. Have a  fantastic week in any case. Get some rest on the 8 March because  patriarchy is fucking exhausting. Also you will need to be in top shape again on the 9th, when your Women’s Day rose might already be wilting away, but the fight must go on.

The illustration in the picture is by Julie Houts. Follow her @jooleeloren on Instragram.

My reference book is The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White. 

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