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International Women’s Day 2021: Choose to Challenge
International Women’s Day is a global event that celebrates the amazing achievements of women worldwide. Whether it’s political, social, economic or anything else in between, IWD calls for visibility of these achievements whilst pushing for gender equality.
IWD has marked our calendars since 1911, with groups of women coming together to host talks, performances and rallies. Obviously this year, things are looking a little different.
But powerful women are a force to be reckoned with! Not even Covid-19 can keep these celebrations at bay.
Today there’s over 500 events taking place (mostly virtual of course) making it even easier to get involved. If you’re keen to show your support, you can search the IWD events calendar here.
Choose to challenge
Each year, IWD has a theme. I don’t think 2021’s could be any more fitting.
Given the rollercoaster of a year many of us are still reeling from, the pandemic has acted as a pressure-cooker for the challenges women face daily. It might be balancing a job and running a home, with the added stress of homeschooling. Maybe it’s job losses and isolation periods forcing women to stay inside when cases of domestic abuse are sky high.
Whatever end of the spectrum, the need for this year’s IWD is just as pressing.
That’s why the idea of challenging gender bias is more relevant than ever. Back when IWD started over a century ago, it was very much a movement made by women for women.
Nowadays, I think we can all be proud to say that IWD is no longer confined by specifics. It’s a day that belongs to everyone ready to stand up and challenge gender inequality.
Women in Tech
Not too long ago, I wrote a piece celebrating the achievements of Women in Tech, as an unbelievable amount of students couldn’t name a female working in the industry, or thought the sector was out of bounds for themselves as young women.
In 2021, you can’t help but wonder, why would that be?
So as part of this year’s choose to challenge theme, I think it’s about time the tech industry honoured the women innovating technology a little louder.
How? By making it easier for girls to access STEM subjects and job roles to start with, champion their successes as they move through their career and stand up and be accountable when it comes to gender bias.
This is particularly relevant when it comes to Artificial Intelligence. It’s no secret that AI is taking over, yet it’s adopting the same gender assumptions humans have.
It’s become a mirror of ourselves, and it’s not pretty.
Harvard Business Review has put this down to the word-embedding process of AI. This is basically a very technical game of word-association that leaves AI systems associating the word ‘man’ with the likes of ‘doctor’ and ‘woman’ with ‘nurse’.
Why does it do this? Are all nurses in the world female? No. Are all doctors male? Still no. Yet gender bias is continually picked up during machine learning. So when humans put examples into the dataset, e.g. ‘doctor = man’ AI doesn’t know any better.
These examples of machine learning don’t reflect modern society, or at least the modern society I’d like to be a part of. Technology is far too important in everyone’s lives for women to not be included in its development or use. Nobody can deny it’s time for change.
Speaking of change, it’s important to take forward the idea that ‘choosing to challenge’ is not performative. IWD and any other form of online activism is not for your Instagram feed. It’s not there to get you better engagement on LinkedIn. It’s real life and it needs action.
The idea of challenging doesn’t just have to be around gender norms and equality, but challenging how businesses/ organisations respond to issue-led days such as IWD.
Don’t get me wrong, online allyship has its perks. It can be a platform for those wanting to raise awareness and educate themselves and others, yet there’s also a handful manipulating good causes to recalibrate their moral compass.
As a marketing executive, I know all too well the brilliance and power social media platforms can have, but it’s worth remembering that activists have been fighting social injustice long before hashtags and trends.
If there’s anything to take away from this, it’s to try and challenge yourself at some point this IWD. None of us are perfect. We all have a long way to go in educating ourselves on equality and justice for all.
It’s time we challenge the idea that feminism is only for women who look a certain way, act a certain way or think a certain way. If you’re picking and choosing the women you support, you’re missing the point entirely.
That goes for supporting your sisters, wives, friends, colleagues and women you see on the street.
Ultimately, great things happen when women come together.