An intersectional International Women's Day

If it isn't intersectional, it isn't feminism

Written by Abby Lee Hood 

March 1st marks the beginning of Women’s History Month, a celebration that first began in 1981 when the United States Congress authorized and requested the week beginning March 7th, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987, Congress dedicated the entire month to the cause. Since then, the Library of Congress has collected a large archive of photo and video celebrating diverse women in the United States.

It makes sense then, that International Women’s Day is also in March, even though it’s not part of the U.S. government. IWD is March 8th, and we hope you’ll be celebrating. But we also recognize that “woman” doesn’t apply to our entire audience; we have genderqueer, men and other gender identities here at Coral. 

We wanted to find out how International Women’s Day can be more intersectional, and how more than cisgender women can feel good about participating. Let’s dive into this year’s theme and how people around the world can feel included and make a positive change.

What is International Women’s Day, and what is this year’s theme?

International Women’s Day is one of the oldest modern national holidays for women, having originated in 1911. According to the event’s website, the day isn’t owned or operated by any one organization, company, or country. Instead, it’s more of an international cooperative effort.

This year’s IWD theme is “#Choosetochallenge,” a call to people around the world to challenge the status quo, especially when it doesn’t serve gender equity.

“A challenged world is an alert world,” IWD’s site states. “And from challenge comes change. So let's all #ChooseToChallenge.”

The IWD website does include a call to action for everyone, not just women, and says that “we can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements.” Conversely, UN Women has created their own theme; the international organization operates separately and will focus on the unique challenges COVID-19 created. Their 2021 theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” The UN is focusing on the way women and girls are shaping our post-COVID world and how they’ve affected global recovery efforts. They also acknowledge that as health care workers, organizers and caregivers, women are often on the front lines of the response, and unfortunately, that also means women accounted for all the jobs lost in the U.S. in December due to the coronavirus.

Does International Women’s Day celebrate everyone?

It’s incredibly unfortunate women accounted for 100% of jobs lost in December, but it’s also a jumping off point to begin talking about inclusivity. Like with most unfortunate economic downturns, BIPOC women lost more jobs and were more negatively impacted than white women. Similarly, the issues and gender parity problems International Women’s Day addresses will always impact BIPOC women more.

“I want to see diverse lineups including Asian and Black women,” Anita Phagura said in a direct message about this year’s IWD themes. “I want to see... neurodiverse, disabled, trans women... because representation matters. And there is definitely a place to talk about the gender spectrum and include nonbinary people, and the role of men too.”

Another reader, Akanksha Singh, is from India and says IWD can sometimes feel a little performative, featuring office brunches and panels. She says passing the mic to those who experience marginalization is a great way to start, and that instead of simply putting out statements, companies should publish action plans. She also noted the intricacies of feminism, stating that “for me to ignore oppressed caste feminism is to ignore feminism that benefits everyone.” It’s true that many companies post on social media about IWD (see: girlboss culture), but that doesn’t necessarily mean their boards, C-suites and products are inclusive.

In short, the problems that plague women will always affect BIPOC, disabled, the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups more and differently. That doesn’t mean International Women’s Day is bad or unnecessary, it just means we all need to do a little more to include everyone in our celebrations, and act more than we speak.

How can we make the celebration more inclusive?

Okay, so how exactly do we make IWD more inclusive? Since the holiday doesn’t belong to any organization it’s pretty decentralized. That means each of us can choose to celebrate in a way we think is appropriate. 

Kortney Lapeyrolerie said in a direct message to Coral that “taking the time to learn about women (cis and trans) who have spoken up throughout history about inequality is a great place to start.” They say it grounds us all to a bigger struggle and helps us see where we can do more, and better.

Self-education is always a great way to start, and readers may enjoy taking a look at:

In keeping with a grassroots, personalized approach, Kinsey Crowley said in a DM that celebrations must expand beyond women in leadership, because those women are often white, cis, and privileged. Lapeyrolerie says effort needs to come from those at the top of the privilege food chain, so to speak, and that men should be taking oaths or agreements that uplift marginalized folks.

IWD’s website says that each year, they lobby to:
  • Celebrate women's achievements
  • Raise awareness about women's equality
  • Lobby for accelerated gender parity
  • Fundraise for female-focused charities

Cis men can take these four points as commitments and look for opportunities year-round to promote them. Because those statements do contain gendered language, you may also prefer to amend them to include cis and transgender women and nonbinary folks.

Last but not least, community action is often the most impactful way to make a difference. National and international groups and policies matter, but what hits close to home are the local decisions and policymakers, as well as local activists.

Consider turning to your local Black Chambers of Commerce, LGBTQ+ Chambers of Commerce or other business directories that can help you support local, small diverse businesses. If you can’t find one, consider starting one! Mutual aid groups are also a great way to make sure the people in your community have resources when they need them most; you can find news articles like this one that describe how to get involved.

Self-education, commitments for privileged folks and local action. That’s a pretty powerful trio packing a real International Women’s Day punch. However you choose to celebrate, we wish you a joyful and happy day! Let’s all do our part to make sure IWD stays powerful, relevant, and impactful for decades to come.

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