International Women's Day isn't only for the benefit of women

Mar 01, 2019

Last year during a radio interview on International Women’s Day (IWD), the host asked me, “So when is it International Men’s Day?”

It was a glib, throwaway comment (by the way, the answer is 19 November) but it serves to underline one of the biggest misconceptions about gender equality: it is not a zero-sum game.

The values of IWD are universal: justice, dignity, hope, equality, collaboration, tenacity, appreciation, respect, empathy and forgiveness. These values have application to all humankind.

Why IWD?

The other question which arises in conversations about IWD is “Why do we need a day to promote women’s issues? Haven’t women got equality now?” Well, not quite. While it is true that there is significant legislation outlawing discrimination on a number of grounds, we all know that rules and regulations serve to make people compliant; they don’t necessarily change attitudes. If you need an example, just look at the painfully slow levels of progress for women in organisations or the gender pay gap.

However, IWD isn’t only about discrimination or lack of progress in the workplace. From the first National Woman's Day, observed in the United States in 1909, to the establishment of a Women’s Day by the Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen in 1910, International Women's Day was and continues to be a powerful global platform for raising awareness about issues affecting women.

But, IWD also draws attention to the gender pensions gap, access to affordable and safe healthcare and the difficulties experienced by single mothers and women in lower socio-economic groups.

Further, IWD encourages girls and young women in school to broaden their thinking and better understand their potential. Many STEM initiatives leverage IWD to promote opportunities and inspire girls to visualise themselves in these careers.

Many organisations will schedule events to support the career development of women and increasingly these events are also open to men.

Universal benefits

The theme of IWD 2019 this Friday, 8 March, is #BalanceforBetter, and men have much to gain from gender equality. For example, many men experience work/family conflict, but neither society nor the workplace support this in the same way they support women’s work/life balance. In her book, The Unfinished Revolution, Kathleen Gerson notes that “Men are deeply wired for emotional connections to children, just like women”. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that, as men do more caregiving, society benefits. Violence against women decreases while the health and well-being of men, women and children improves.

International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on the progress made to date and to amplify the call for change. It celebrates the courage and determination of women who have engendered change and those who continue to advocate and educate in our society for both men and women.

Improving the circumstances of women does not diminish men’s situation. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats, and isn’t that a better outcome for everyone?

Dawn Leane is Principal Consultant at LeaneLeaders.