What International Women’s Day means to me

Written by Cam Khalid
Art Lindsey LaMont

March 8. Another typical boring day for some. And yet, for half the world, this day is one of liberation and empowerment. 

It holds a special place in my heart as a woman and as an advocate for equality. It reminds me of the daily efforts that I, as well as all the women in my life, have put in both our personal and professional lives for an unbiased world. It is also a day that has always stood to me as a strong marker for the strength of womanhood. 

Observed as International Women’s Day, March 8 is a United Nations-recognized event that celebrates the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women throughout the years. 

However, despite such significant achievements, a majority of the world still experiences a gender pay gap, lack of female leaders, lack of research in female healthcare, violence against women and girls—the list goes on. Therefore, it also marks a call to action to push for gender equality.

A major event like IWD has no geographical or religious borders, and that’s the beauty of it—to me, at least. No matter where we are on the map, IWD serves to educate and raise awareness of the daily struggles of women and girls around the world, while honoring those who have been at the forefront of fighting against gender inequality. 

Since the early 1900s, the month of March has been the focal point in the women’s rights movement. While it is hard to pinpoint the exact point in history that kick-started this movement, it has been acknowledged that the first National Women’s Day—as it was called then—fell on February 28, 1909. It was propelled into the streets of New York by a Ukraine-born suffragist named Clara Lemlich who demanded better pay, shorter working hours and improved working conditions.

Soon after, IWD was formalized in 1910 when Clara Zetkin, the leader of the ‘women’s office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, encouraged every country to celebrate women one day every year while pushing for their demands of equal rights. The event gained traction around the world, starting on March 19 in 1911, before shifting to March 8 in 1913.

To this day, IWD is celebrated on March 8 with women around the world continually bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and domestic abuse through activism and protest.

That makes it a century’s battle for gender parity.

Photo by Chloe Simpson

Sadly, the light at the end of the tunnel is far from near. According to the World Economic Forum, as stated on the official IWD website, “none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children.”

However, this doesn’t mean that all the sacrifices that have been made are in vain. We still need to keep the conversations going, amplifying the voices until we attain full gender equality.

While it’s easy for me to grumble about the shocking pay gap between me and a male colleague of mine, who—mind you—has less work experience than me and does not need to suffer through period pains on the desk, I am fully aware of the efforts that my company has made to level the playing field. I have been given opportunities that have helped me with my career progression, from working with a diverse team including women leaders to having my achievements recognised with awards and even a pay rise. I was even allowed to continue working while studying for my Master’s degree.

While these workplace events have allowed me to acknowledge the privilege that comes with living in a ‘woke’ system, we also have to understand that many others are not as fortunate. According to UNICEF, 129 million girls around the world are out of school. In South Sudan, nearly three-quarters of girls do not attend schools. 

This extends beyond education too. In countries like Egypt, Nigeria and Yemen, girls are subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). In Malta, if a man who abducts a woman marries her afterwards, he is exempt from any punishment. Last year, Poland introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Therefore, it is important to also recognize and reflect on the horrors lived by women everyday.

Before the pandemic, UN Women reported that 243 million women experienced sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner. Since the pandemic, such violence has intensified.

To make matters worse, a 2020 UN report stated that almost 90 percent of people are prejudiced against women globally. It’s no surprise that McKinsey & Company reported that more women than men were dismissed from their jobs during the pandemic. I’ll even admit that I was working from home in fear of being laid-off, despite having a good work ethic and relationship with my manager.

As relevant as it was in 2020 or even 1909 when it all began, this year’s IWD theme is #BreakTheBias. Whether it’s in the boardroom or bar, it’s important for everyone – men and women alike – to recognize and address bias, ​​conscious or not. There’s simply no place for prejudice.

That is why I will continue to observe the annual celebration, admiring the incredible women around me, marveling at how far we have come, fighting the good fight alongside our international sisters and anticipating the lengths we have to go through to finally achieve gender parity.

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov