THIS week I am celebrating a very well recognised day on the world’s calendar. It is known as IWD, International Women’s Day. The Zonta Club of Bendigo has traditionally organised a dinner for many years, inviting the people of Bendigo to join them, recognising and celebrating IWD.
Zonta International supports women and children around the world, and the citizens of Bendigo have been strong supporters for many years of both the Zonta Club itself and this particular dinner, with proceeds going to various scholarships for young women.
When I started to research the beginnings of IWD my search took me first to the US, where in 1908 15,000 women marched through New York City campaigning for change from the oppression and inequality that marked their lives. They demanded shorter working hours, better pay and voting rights. They were eventually successful.
James Oppenheim wrote a famous poem in 1911 titled Bread and Roses that became something of an anthem for all women in the subsequent battles that continued for so many years and still continue today in both developing and developed countries. Bread represented fair wages and roses represented decent working conditions.
Today IWD is celebrated across the world on March 8. It is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women in the past, present and future.
I see it as an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.
Young women believe many of the tough battles are over, already achieved in our society, but I can see that there are still many battles to be won on the gender front. As an original member of WEL (Women’s Electoral Lobby), I remember how we struggled to have our voices heard at many different levels. I was not paid an equal wage to a male with fewer qualifications and much less experience. We were not required by law to pay in to superannuation until 1975. Many women my age today simply do not have the financial means that their male counterparts have acquired. These women live on far smaller nest-eggs in retirement.
On a global front, women’s education, health and the violence perpetrated on them is much worse than on men. Seventy per cent of the world’s poor are women, although they perform two-third’s of the world’s work. They earn less than 10 per cent of the world’s wages!
Women in the developed countries, including Australian women, are much further advanced in this struggle for equality than those in developing countries. That does not mean we remain complacent or smug. Our daughters need to read our history and learn from it, as patriarchy still lurks just below the surface.
For our daughters and granddaughters, choices are easier and are a great improvement in today’s society compared to those of my generation. Girls are educated in all manner of professions, some that were once the prerogative of males only; they can work and have families. There are certainly more women taking senior roles in boardrooms, but overall women are not widely represented in politics or business.
Today IWD celebrates the positives rather than the negatives, the achievements of today rather than focusing on the past. Thousands of events are held around the world celebrating IWD, a mighty global web powered by women, and they include corporations, governments and the arts.
So make a difference, think globally and act locally! Make every day International Women’s Day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for our girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.