International Women’s day – what does it mean to you?

When I told my 6-year old daughter that it was International Women’s day today she responded “is there a day for boys too?” I replied, “it is ok for women and girls to have a special day.”*

It raises the point that gender equality is not just about having the same number of women and men at the table. It is about issues of influence in decision-making, status, power, representation and sexuality. Professor Ann Towns explains that before the formation of the modern nation state women had a more nuanced role in influencing state decision-making, and since the formation of the modern nation state women became excluded.

While things are changing there is much more to do for women and girl’s representation, resource allocation and rights, as noted by Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström at the recent LU 350 Symposium: Towards a peaceful global order and gender justice in diplomacy. Margot Wallström highlighted that women’s rights are human rights and that smart leadership on gender is important. Sweden established the world’s first feminist foreign policy in 2015.

While one can critique, clearly this kind of leadership matters to lift the lid on gender, diversity and inclusion across our institutions and organisations. The World Health Organisation, WHO estimates that around the world 36% of women (one in three women) still experience sexual or physical violence and that is likely to be an underestimation.

Joshua Goldstein points out in his book War and Gender that we also need to better understand men’s roles in society. He explores the idea that boys are masculinised at an early age so that they will be ready for the eventuality for future military engagement. It raises interesting questions about our changing roles in society and feeds into the continued critical societal dialogue and engagement on gender justice.

Coming back to where I started – International Women’s Day is a reminder to reflect on what gender and gender justice is, what is means to us and to continue to think collectively about how things are for women and girls around the world.

*Other important days to mark are the International Men’s Day on November 19 to highlight the important role of men and boys in our communities, relationships and families to improve gender relations and a Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31 to celebrate and highlight the discrimination faced by transgender people around the world.

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