Annabel Denham

The problem with International Women’s Day

Swimmers take to the North Sea to celebrate International Women’s Day (Getty images)

Am I the only one wondering how long it’ll be before the organisers of International Women’s Day are forced to rename their campaign? How, depending on what they mean by ‘women’, it’ll need to be called ‘International People-with-a-cervix Day’ or ‘International People-who-identify-as-a-woman Day?’

Quite what the founders – a group of American workers who back in 1909 demanded shorter hours, better pay and voting rights – would make of the word ‘woman’ being gradually pushed out of the lexicon as a meaningful term we will never know. But on a better note, they would surely be overawed by the progress made in the past 113 years. Women account for over half of all workers employed in management, professional and related occupations in the US, for instance. Here in Britain, the female employment rate has risen 20 percentage points in half a century.

The plight of disenfranchised women across the globe undoubtedly warrants our attention, but deserves more than 24 hours of it. In Britain, IWD has morphed into a patronising exercise susceptible to piggybacking from single-issue bores who distract us from the real issues – like domestic violence and rape – that persist. Its website now features blogs on ‘pension inequality’ and ‘fair pay’. It wants to usher in a world ‘free from stereotypes’, seemingly oblivious to the ways in which it reinforces rather than eliminates them.

In Britain, IWD has morphed into a patronising exercise

Consider female entrepreneurship. Yes, there is more to be done. But how many IWD campaigners will know that the growth of new female-led businesses is now outstripping that of male-led companies for the first time? Will they point out that the gender pay gap is negligible between 22-39 year olds, and can mostly be accounted for by free choice and compensating differentials? That, if women are occupied in less risky jobs or ones with more sociable hours, it’s hardly surprising this is reflected in pay – and therefore pensions?

So myopic is our fixation on workplace discrimination – real or perceived – that it’s hard to know what equality would even look like anymore.

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