On March 8, people around the world will celebrate the social, political, and economic contributions of women. Initially, a practice that arose amongst women’s rights activists in the early twentieth century, today, International Women’s Day celebrations are both a testament to the progress brought about by the women’s rights movement and a stark reminder of how much work remains to ensure the liberation of women everywhere.
Some people argue that International Women’s Day is redundant because commercial appropriation of the holiday has obscured meaningful discussion of the real issues facing women. Indeed, for some, the very concept of distinguishing women’s achievements from men’s is seen as antithetical to gender equality. Yet, in a world where women’s struggles and contributions are routinely minimized and overlooked, observing International Women’s Day is a powerful reminder of the systemic obstacles women face and the effort and determination it takes to succeed despite them.
Whether in the workplace or at home, women’s labour continues to be undervalued and underpaid. Despite possessing similar levels of education and training, occupations in which women are concentrated tend to be low paid and have low social prestige—a phenomenon sociologists term “the pink collar ghetto.” Meanwhile, at home, the responsibility for household tasks and childcare remains predominantly on women, even though they participate in the formal labour market at increasing rates. Statistics indicate that as of 2021, women are still more likely than their male partners to shoulder the disproportionate burden of childcare and domestic work.
Gender based abuse, neglect, harassment, and discrimination continue to overwhelmingly affect women across the globe. Since last Women’s Day alone, there have been several high-profile cases of sexual violence in the news. The murder of 33-year-old British woman Sarah Everard in March 2021, alongside widespread reports of sexual assault at the University of Western Ontario’s Orientation week in September 2021 generated massive public outcry concerning women’s safety. In Afghanistan, the Taliban’s assumption of power in August 2021 has severely curbed Afghan women’s access to education. In Texas, U.S., adoption of the Heartbeat Act—prohibiting abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy—into state law marks one of the most restrictive mandates against reproductive freedom in the nation.
Feminists are often ridiculed for championing gender equality and celebrating International Women’s Day because, as some argue, explicit legal discrimination against women is no longer a concern. However, this overlooks other forms of inequalities women face, including disproportionate rates of sexual and physical violence, the discrimination faced by marginalised women including women of colour (especially those who are Black and Indigenous), trans women, disabled women, impoverished women, single mothers, and those that live in countries where legal, social, and political equality is not guaranteed. In Canada, for instance, Indigenous women continue to be murdered or go missing at alarming rates.
The right to equal treatment is an intrinsic right of all human beings. The systemic discrimination and mistreatment women face, whether in the workplace, at home, or on university campuses deny women this right. International Women’s Day is symbolic of the progress we have made so far and the capacity we hold for a more equitable future for all women everywhere.