Whose Voices Get Heard on International Women’s Day?

international women's day voicesFor many years, my motto on International Women’s Day has been the same: “I acknowledge the women who shape me, the women who shape our world, the gains that have been made in advancing women’s rights, and the work that’s still to be done.”

After two full years of so much change, including massive social unrest, my longstanding motto for the 8th of March doesn’t feel right or enough anymore. This year, I’ve decided to abandon my old motto and do International Women’s Day differently. I’m going to stay quiet and listen to other women’s voices. (OK, I’ll write this blog and THEN I’ll stay quiet).

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #breakthebias. It acknowledges that bias, discrimination, and stereotyping are major barriers to equality. I love this theme – it’s inclusive in two important ways. First, it calls on everyone to take action, because we all have bias.

Examining bias also means looking at more than just gender stereotyping. Other forms of bias, for example, based on age, ethnicity, sexuality, or disability also perpetuate inequality. Awareness of all forms of bias helps us recognize that for many women, the experience of discrimination is not based on gender alone. Inequalities also arise from factors such as race, cultural background, refugee status, disability, being LGBT, and so on. We only have to look at how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women to see how multiple forms of disadvantage can play out in women’s lives.

It seems obvious to say, but women are not an orderly and uniform group. We each have identities made up of many different aspects, all of which influence how we are treated by the outside world. As a cis gender, heterosexual, white woman my life has been easier than most. I’ve had access to a lot of privileges and haven’t had to contend with the types of stressors and hurdles encountered by many other women.

As much as I have loved sharing International Women’s Day with colleagues in the past (and will do so again), I now recognize that corporate IWD events can exclude many women. The debates about gender pay gaps and women in leadership – while still necessary – are not inclusive of all women’s struggles.

That’s why this International Women’s Day, I’m taking a day out from advancing women’s equality in the workplace to learn about the experience of women who live different lives to me. If you’d like to join me, here are a few ideas for quiet activities that can still have impact.

Read books written by women of color

Some time ago, a friend spent a year reading only books authored by women. This opened my eyes to the gender imbalance in literature (most books on my shelves were written by men). It also made me see that I could tackle this imbalance by being a more intentional reader. I took my friend’s lead and sought out books written by women of color and indigenous women. Louis Erdrich and Melissa Lucashenko are two of many notable discoveries.

Fiction is a gift that can open our minds to worlds we will never get to visit but are richer for knowing about. This International Women’s Day, why not seek out a book written by an indigenous woman?

Donate to a charity that supports women and girls

I recently discovered a local charity that advocates for and supports women and girls in prison and their families. It is through donating and reading about the work of this group that I learned about the complex factors that lead women and girls into the criminal justice system. Many incarcerated women have experienced violence, poverty, homelessness, unemployment, complex health issues, substance use, and systemic racism.

With greater understanding of marginalized communities, comes great compassion. This International Women’s Day, why not seek out a charity in your area that supports women and girls experiencing disadvantage?

Seek out new stories and alternative voices

Take a moment to think about how you consume popular culture – consider the social media and streaming services you use, the accounts you follow, the shows you watch, and music you listen to. Picture yourself with your headphones on. Whose voices are you hearing? How many are women and how diverse are they?

It doesn’t have to be about grand gestures. Why not seek out diverse women’s voices in the media, music, and entertainment that you consume on International Women’s Day.

Before I sign off and stay quiet – one last thing. The experience of listening to “diverse” women’s voices will be personal to each of us. My goal is to better understand the experiences of women who lead different lives to me. I’m not intending to “other” or exclude any group or community. If you have any suggestions or views on this topic, or suggestions for amplifying women’s voices, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. It’s through respectful sharing and debate that we learn. Thanks for reading!