by Ayotunde Adegbola
The Herstory of International Women’s Day (IWD)
For over a century now, the social, economic, political, and cultural achievements of women are celebrated on March 8 of every year. The objective of celebrating IWD is to accelerate gender parity in our world – a state of equal opportunity (a man is provided with) in whatsoever field a woman desires to participate in.
We take advantage of the day as a call to action for a better, gender-balanced society; and the day is celebrated and supported globally by industry, governments, educational institutions, community groups, professional associations, women’s networks, charities and non-profit bodies, the media and more.
Whilst the day is widely known for the celebration of the significant contributions of women to our society especially in securing women’s rights and building more equitable societies, we also remember the suppressed voices of many women who are constantly and consistently prevented from attaining their dreams and securing their rights.
Every year, an annual campaign theme is chosen and celebrated all year round, and the theme for 2019 is #BalanceForBetter.
Balance for Better: A balanced world is a better world.
The two most popular issues which kick-started the activism for gender equality in the early 1900s are the inclusion of the participation of women in government and the gender pay gap. It is sad to report that, till date, these issues continue to exist and remain very important priorities. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018 conducted research on about 149 countries and provides an in-depth detail of the imbalance in gender equality of those countries and the implications for the future. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the most gender-equal country is Iceland, having closed about 85% of its overall gender gap.
Largely, there is some evidence of progress in the indexed countries, albeit at a slow pace. Drawing examples close to home, the rate of participation of women in government and political issues can be gleaned from the recently conducted Nigerian presidential elections where not many women participated in the voting exercise at all. Being a first time voter, I couldn’t be happier to exercise my right to vote – a right which the generations who had come before me had fought for; one which many women in various countries of the world still cannot enjoy. It was quite disheartening to speak to other ladies in the lead up to the elections, who clearly had no interest in the election process and even went as far as attempting to dissuade me from exercising my right to vote.
Similarly, gender bias continues to hold women back in the workplace making it more difficult for women to be hired and be promoted. Whilst many corporate organizations recognize the damage that gender bias does to women’s careers and are taking active steps to stop this by setting gender diversity standards and being committed to achieving those standards, the WEF report states that the average annual pay for women in the countries surveyed is now equal to men’s average annual pay a decade ago, when the report was first released. As a matter of fact, it may take another 108 years to close the gender pay gap and 202 years to achieve parity in the workplace. I agree with Sadiq Khan that it is simply unacceptable that your gender can still determine your opportunities in life, how much you are paid and your career prospects. There are still too few women in public life, in board rooms and on our screens; and this is just not good enough!
Although these figures appear rather daunting, there is good news. The world is slowly but surely moving towards a time when gender balance is “expected” – you walk into a room and the lack of diversity is recognized, flagged.
Collective Call to Action
A well celebrated American feminist and journalist, Gloria Steinem once opined that “the story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”
2017’s theme charged us to Be Bold for Change and last year, we Press(ed) for Progress. There is obviously still a lot of work to be done and we can only attain a balanced world when we all recognize that we have a significant role to play. It is not enough to only celebrate the achievements of women and highlight the issues women face on IWD. Gender balance in business and politics is clearly an economic, political and social issue. We all need to be active and vibrant participants in attaining the balanced society that we so earnestly desire; if not for ourselves, then at least for the ones who come after us.
–Ayotunde Adegbola is a Nigerian lawyer, practicing at one of Nigeria’s leading law firms. In her free time, she enjoys reading African fiction, playing Words with Friends and listening to music. She also likes to research new places to visit and hopes to one day be able to say “I have travelled the world.” She pledges to intensify her efforts in the race for gender equality.