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how we can make ​#IWD2015 work

International Women's Day should be a reminder of the gender inequality half of society face rather than a chance to post trite motivational slogans.

by Nathalie Olah
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08 March 2015, 11:55am

The "shocked and appalled" brigade of the broadsheet media have been keen to stress the importance of International Women's Day this year in the face of widespread apathy. The original motivation for the holiday - to commemorate a strike organised by the International Ladies' Garment Workers in 1908 - is noble and great, but I have to be honest in saying that I'm leaning towards the side of the sceptics. And not because I don't think there are still many important issues that need to be overcome in the scope of womens' rights, but for the very opposite reason: that I'm frustrated these issues haven't already have solved and that we still need to allocate women one day a year to vent their many, many, well-justified grievances.

If we look at the other days of International Observance - International Lefthander's day, International Tiger day, International day of Innocent Children Victims of Violence Day - it's clear that in allocating an IWD, society still considers women as a persecuted minority. They wouldn't be wrong in the first instance at least, but if we concede to this notion and rail against it with only half-baked #dissent on social media, we have to face up to the fact that we are little more than passive observers to a woefully unfair system.

If we're going to embrace #IWD2015, then it should be about more than instagrammed pics of the Supermodels brandishing motivational slogans. It should be used to highlight the explicit gender inequality that is present across all sectors of society.

There are two big stories relating to the scope of womens rights that will be being discussed at length today. The first is India's banning of the BBC documentary, India's Daughter, about the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in 2012. That 1.3 billion citizens in one of the world's the fastest growing economies were felt to need protection from a crime that still plights the country at pandemic rates is reprehensible (there were 25,000 cases of reported rape in 2013, with one commentator predicting that a further 90% went unreported). The second is the revelation made on Friday that the pay gap between men and women will exist for "at least" another seventy years.

The latter issue is one that most people reading this article will have had some experience of, even if it is indirect. Since the story broke earlier this week I've been thinking about it long and hard. Giving our culture the benefit of the doubt and assuming, as a best case scenario, that men are not consciously waging a hate-fuelled campaign to keep women down, the only conclusion I was able to come to is that the working environment is simply more conducive to a "male attitudes". Whatever that means, right? Well, it seems to be the most popular theory, touted in self-help literature and popularised by the 'lean in' phenomenon.

Yet what none of these user manuals for women seem to tackle, is the question of why women might not want to 'lean in' in the first place.

To be more specific then, perhaps the IWD this year could be devoted to sharing stories of discrimination that we have all witnessed, or perhaps experienced, in our own lives, especially at work.

Take sexual harassment alone, for instance. It took me five minutes to think of countless incidents that have happened to me, my friends and my colleagues, in the course of my relatively short career.

Take the one about the teenage intern, who was told by an editor that sleeping with him would 'benefit her career'. Or the one where the 20 year-old PA was forced to watch her boss pee while he asked her to spend the night with him and share a gram of coke. Or the one where the minor celebrity media mogul called all of the female junior members of staff on a nightly basis to ask what they were wearing; or the one where the intern was told that she 'had the right look to go far' (despite keeping her on a sub-£20,000 wage for over five years). There was the one about the model who was fed so much alcohol at the age of 19 that she ended up posing for shoots that she still can't bear to look at. Or the one where the male boss cancelled his PA's hotel room during a press trip, telling the concierge that they'd only be needing 'the one room to share' instead.

All of this has happened within the relatively small confines of the East London media circuit, but I'd venture to guess that it is only a drop in an ocean of sexual intimidation that happens in workplaces across the globe.

Maybe I'm being too ambitious in hoping that #IWD2015 would be to put to best use in sharing these stories. Of course, we're banned from namechecking perpetrators due to a system that continues to protect the interests of their interests. And I'm not saying that this kind of this kind of harassment is only carried out by men. I'm just saying that it is mostly. On top of which, it goes some way to explaining why many women are taught early on to avoid the kind of repartee with senior management that usually leads to favourable employment opportunities.

So are we destined always to be Dawns in a universe of snivelling Gareths and David Brents wearing Air Force 1's?

If we want to see change we're going to have to be bolder, quit posting meaningless pictures in the name of 'protest' and start speaking up about the injustice that infiltrates every part of our lives. They can't sack all of us, and believe me, for the sake of protecting their own interests, they wouldn't dare to either.

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Text Nathalie Olah