International Women’s Day, every day 

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“Tell me about one inspiring woman that you know.”

It’s an early Sunday morning in the dining hall. Sunlight streams softly through the windows, as the hall echoes with the quiet footfalls of people arriving for breakfast. My friends at the table stare blankly back at me as the question hangs in the air, sleep still lingering in their eyes. Not your best conversation starter. Nonetheless, with a sleepy smile, someone pulls out his phone. “See this picture of a black hole? A woman called Katie Bouman took it.” “Grace Hopper,” another friend chimes in. “She found an actual moth in a computer, which was the world’s first computer bug.” “Margaret Thatcher,” someone blurts out. Everyone at the table laughs. 

With International Women’s Day fast approaching, it warms my heart to hear that the myriad accomplishments by women are being noticed and inspiring people. Celebrated on 8th March every year, the day aims to do just that — to honour the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. It advocates the acceleration of gender parity. 

Such activities should not merely be one-off efforts

Numerous events are underway to honour the day. St Pancras Station will be hosting micro-operas based on travellers’ tales, composed by women. The Marylebone Cricket Club Museum is holding an exhibition focused on the history and development of women’s cricket, featuring memorabilia from inspirational women who have transformed the game. Many newspapers and magazines have published their “Ways to Celebrate International Women’s Day”, with suggestions such as supporting women-owned businesses, reading a book by a feminist icon and sending a nice email to cheer for a female colleague. 

This year, the International Women’s Day campaign theme is #BreakTheBias, which encourages everyone to act towards eliminating biases, stereotypes and discrimination. All of these are efforts to fight for gender equality and encourage the celebration of women, be they the women in our daily lives, or those of musical, sporting and literary fame. 

Yet as we participate in these meaningful events and celebrate the day, we must also remember that such activities should not merely be one-off efforts. With women making up just 8.1% of female Fortune 500 CEOs, and the gender wage gap standing at 23%, gender equality is a problem that will take a long time and a persistent, concerted effort to solve. There are always so many outstanding women in our lives who deserve notice and celebration. The women in the news, in work, in school. Our mothers, our sisters, our friends. International Women’s Day deserves celebration not for one day, but every day. 

There are always so many outstanding women in our lives who deserve notice

Spending the afternoon of International Women’s Day reading a book by a feminist icon is certainly welcome, but we can make the active choice to pick up the works of Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker or Simone de Beauvoir in our daily lives as well. The works by female composers such as Hildegard von Bingen, Louise Farrenc, Fanny Mendelssohn and Amy Beach simply cannot be finished and appreciated in one day (if not years). The next time you go to listen to a piece by Mozart or Bernstein, why not tune in to the music by a female composer instead? A kind email to cheer on a female friend or colleague is always appreciated, and so is a trip to the local women-run business. There is always time to advocate for gender equality, or simply to learn more and gain an awareness of the issues faced by women. 

The conversation at the dining table continues as the morning lethargy gradually fades and the hall bubbles to life. Amidst the jokes about moths in computers, a friend turns to me with a sheepish look. “Cleopatra,” he says simply, “she’s the most inspiring woman that I know.” We laugh. An Egyptian queen is worlds removed from the likes of Katie Bouman or Margaret Thatcher. But this precisely shows how many women there are to celebrate, both in our past and present.

“Tell me about one inspiring woman that you know.” 

Illustration: Rosie Bromiley

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