Why International Women's Day is still so important.

As I started to think about writing a post for International Women's Day I wasn’t sure what angle I wanted to take (you can see previous IWD posts here and here). I’ve read a lot of commentary about whether there is any point to it, and it really got me thinking. 

I grew up being taught that I could be and do anything I wanted. Yet as I stumbled into the ‘real world’ I found it wasn’t so easy. As I worked my way up the corporate ladder, I experienced inequality firsthand. Yes, I was paid less than my male counterpart but it was deeper than that - I was once told that if I wanted to succeed in this world I was going to have to start being less of a woman and more like a man. 

What did that even mean? As a 22 year old I didn’t have a clue. As a 32 year old I’m none the wiser. 

It’s taken 10 years for me to really understand that actually it’s ok for me to be a woman. It’s ok for me to be emotional, vulnerable and gentle. It’s ok for me to be powerful, to rise up, to step out on my own. It’s ok for me to have an opinion and to express it. It’s ok for me to stop doing what I think is expected of me, instead choosing to do what feels good to me

Often when we think of the battle for women’s freedom, we think of women in developing countries. Women who are forced into marriages at the age of 12, women who are viewed as inferior and are not accepted into society, women who are denied education. In the western world, we pat ourselves on the back for all the progress that has been made (and yes, it should be celebrated), but just last night I was reminded how far we still have to go. 

I stumbled across a TED talk given last year by Monica Lewinsky . Here was a well educated, bright woman who for almost 20 years had hidden herself away from the world. She had kept silent, trapped in a prison of shame. As I watched this woman finally breaking her silence, I was overwhelmingly inspired by her courage and bravery. I was also deeply saddened that it was only now that she felt able to let her voice be heard. 

“We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave. To embrace the strength within themselves and realise their full potential”
— Malala Yousafzai

Today as I reflect on what it means for me to be a woman, I stand side by side with women across the globe. 

  • I stand with the mother who has no choice but to make the terrifying journey across Europe, in the hope her children will be safe. 
  • I stand with the 1 in 3 women who will experience physical or sexual abuse from their partner. 
  • I stand with the women and girls who are denied education. 
  • I stand with the woman who is condemned for not wanting children. 
  • I stand with the girl who is kidnapped, sold and exploited. 
  • I stand with the women who are bravely stepping up and speaking out, even thought it might mean imprisionment, torture or death. 
  • I stand with all those women who are not able to speak out. 

I’m also filled with hope - every day in my work I am tremendously privileged to witness smart, purpose-driven women transform the lives. These women have a deep rooted desire to serve the world, to contribute. They are tired of playing small, instead choosing to begin to step into their power. To let their voice be heard. 

Today I celebrate them. I celebrate their beauty, compassion, courage and spirit. 

Happy International Women’s Day.