Scrolling through social media on International Women’s Day, my heart was warmed with posts from friends celebrating the achievements of women in their life and calling for gender equality. However, I was simultaneously confronted with other posts that made me feel uneasy. ‘International Women’s Day’ events charged upwards of $50 for entry. Corporations with reputations for sexual harassment posted in celebration. T-shirts, which were no doubt made in exploitative factories, donned feminist slogans.
While movements pressing for gender equity are gaining traction in the western world, I simultaneously watch the unethical commercialisation of feminist movements with disappointment. While nothing could diminish my immense pride in womens’ solidarity, darker divisions are working to exploit our movement for their own commercial success.
Perhaps this year I was most confronted with the increasingly exclusionary nature of ostensibly feminist events: the breakfasts, the high teas, the seminars — predominantly headed by wealthy, white women — all of which took place in the inner city and certainly did not come at a cheap price. The framework of these events alone perpetuates inequality and is particularly troubling considering the roots of International Women’s day, which initially begun as a strike by working-class women. What working-class mother would have the time to attend such an event? Further, how are the experiences of wealthy, white women at all reflective of the experiences of the women of colour, Indigenous women and migrant women that the movement claims to represent?
This same exclusionary culture extends to marches and protests, which have now become well-known for prioritising the rights of wealthy, white, cis-gendered women. For instance, the anti-Trump Women’s March in the United States that took place in mid-January this year arguably almost completely disregarded any notion of intersectional feminism. It was angering that a march claiming to be to be inclusive of all who identify as women did not include all women, but rather, just those ‘with a pussy and the ability to procreate’. This must change. Prioritising the most marginalised groups of women and placing them at the front of the movement is not only being inclusive in the true sense of the word, but builds a far more powerful and united fight against the patriarchy.
The hypocrisy of corporations celebrating International Women’s Day is also worth mentioning. Westpac is a relevant example of how big business will claim to get on board with gender equality initiatives, but only for the benefit of their own reputation and with no real action towards change. In 2014, former-CEO Gail Kelly set a target that 50 per cent of management positions would be filled by women in 2017. This target was indeed “reached”, however, it wasn’t without significant internal manipulation. The numbers of women in management positions at Westpac actually sits at around 30 per cent if the definition of management is properly adhered to, and the figure is likely far lower for women of colour. Yet, on International Women’s Day, Westpac boasted slogans wishing their social media followers a “Happy International Women’s Day” — empty words in light of the gender inequality rife within the corporation.
I do not think that International Women’s Day should be cancelled or that there should not be a day to celebrate our achievements as women in the fight for gender equality. Rather, International Women’s Day needs to celebrate women of colour, Indigenous women, working-class women, disabled women, trans women and other women who are not simply wealthy and white. Panels must represent different perspectives, not just for tokenistic inclusivity but to give a voice to the most powerless of women. Events need to be accessible, financially and otherwise. It is only then that International Women’s Day will truly represent all women, internationally.