The commercialisation of IWD: the way forward is back.

By Caiti Galwey and Sarah Abou-Eid

Photo by Adrien Olichon from Pexels

It is now one week since International Women’s Day (IWD) 2022. The LinkedIn posts have come to a halt. The leftover pink cupcakes have been eaten. The motivational speakers have sent their invoices for payment. The conversation has stopped. Did it ever truly begin?

A combination of performative activism in a particularly commercial context has seen IWD become nothing more than a tokenised gesture; a box to be ticked in the “significant dates” calendar of multi-million dollar companies. Where are the workshops, the panels, the changes, the systems and codes of conduct and advancement? How did we stray so far from what IWD meant at its inception? 

IWD was born out of the socialism movement in 1910, and has been historically associated with labour movements. Its creator, Clara Zetkin, was an active member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and a fierce critic of “bourgeois feminism”. Zetkin and her socialist counterparts believed that the needs and struggles of working-class women would never be fought for by the women in the upper rungs of society. The first few marches for IWD called for women’s suffrage, equal pay, paid leave and an 8 hour working day, all of which were radical demands for the time period

The 2022 corporatised rendition of IWD is devoid of its radical socialist origins, and is instead a concoction of performative activism and virtue signaling. The IWD website is the one most referred to for information on yearly “themes”. However, this website was not created by UN Women, who every year have genuinely made massive efforts to begin to talk about actual changes. This website instead enables the bare minimum needed for companies and people wishing to “virtue signal”, offering catchy slogans such as “Break the Bias” and trendy poses for people to post on social media. None of this is a recipe for real change (compare with the UN Women’s “Changing Climates: Equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”). 

It is vital that we as young people, particularly aspiring lawyers, many of whom will be working in the corporate world, do not accept the bare minimum from corporations who are eager to shirk away from the bigger, deeper problems impacting women today. We must remind them that IWD is meant for radical change and for the amplification of marginalised and oppressed women’s voices. 

IWD is the day for asking questions and demanding answers. Ask why 2 in 3 chance women will face sexual harrassment in their current workplace. Ask why there is an absence of a guaranteed right to paid family and domestic violence leave. Ask about the gender pay gap. 

Ask about the struggles outside of the workplace, specifically for women of colour and members of the LGBTQIA community. Ask why first Nations women are still being murdered in police custody, and being imprisoned at alarming rates. Ask why transgender women are still falling victim to violent hate crime with no legislative protections (yet). Demand answers as to why 51 women are currently being locked up by our Federal Government in indefinite immigration detention. 

For IWD to truly be a day for women, activism must be done with devotion to the cause of women. It cannot continue to be a day companies use to increase their social capital or their market value. We must look back in order to look forward. 

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