What is International Women’s Day?
International Women’s Day is a globally acknowledged celebration that honours the political, social, economic, and cultural achievements of women, while paying homage to the past, celebrating the present, and demanding a call to action for women of the future.
This moment subtly began in 1908, during a time where women began to engage in critical debate amongst each other, exploring the oppression and injustices experienced across the board. Having a space to discuss the intersections of gender and social justice inspired women to become vocal advocates for change. Over 15,000 women rallied through the city of New York, demanding shorter working hours, better pay, as well as the right to vote. In 1911, other countries such as Austria, Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland celebrated and recognized International Women’s Day for the first time, following the decision that this celebration would take place on March 8th, annually.
Although there has been progress over the last century regarding women’s rights, there is still inequality, injustice, prejudice, underrepresentation, and lack of opportunity for women - especially women who are targeted in multiple ways (ex. race, sexual orientation, size, ability, age etc.)
International Women’s Day not only emphasizes and highlights womanhood and the grave resilience of a woman, it also serves to challenge biases, societal norms, and gender-based stereotypes and conditioning.
#BreakTheBias: What is this and why is it important?
The International Women’s Day official website acknowledges this year’s theme as #BreakTheBias and is asking us to imagine a gender equal world, free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. Although Western society seems like it has come a far way since 1911, women across the globe continue to experience marginalization, oppression, and injustice.
Just in the past year, women residing in Afghanistan have been suffering because of terrorist attacks, impacting female education, women’s ability to work, and the disbandment of the Ministry of Women Affairs in Afghanistan itself. Women are banned from receiving an education and are told not to return to work.
Globally, an estimated 736 million women (almost 1 in 3) have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner violence, or both, at least once in their lifetime (World Health Organization, 2021). In addition, since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of domestic violence have intensified (UN Women, 2022).
The intersections of a women’s identity (race, indigeneity, socioeconomic status, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, refugee/ immigration status, religion, spirituality, and education) may greatly shape her experiences as she navigates through this world. It is important to reflect on our biases, as a world free from bias, stereotypes, and discrimination, brings us much closer to a world that is more equitable, inclusive, and proudly diverse.
This International Women’s Day, we challenge you to reflect on your own biases that you’d like to break. For myself, I try to break the bias of what it means and looks like to be “professional” as a woman who is visibly very tattooed. I also think it is incredibly important to challenge gender-based labels/ narratives which are often fed to children through messaging, media, and on clothing (ex. girls are kind, caring, and sweet, while boys are heroes, strong, and leaders).
The harsh truth is that we are all biased, whether we are conscious of our biases or not. These biases are often shaped by our circumstances and environment. To #BreakTheBias, we need to be able to challenge ourselves, be okay with getting it wrong, have uncomfortable conversations to grow, while holding space for the mistakes we’ve made and using them as an opportunity to learn.
World Health Organization, on behalf of the United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Violence Against Women Estimation and Data (2021).