7 March 2023

Embrace Equity - People start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging requires equitable action.

On Wednesday, 8 March, International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated worldwide.

It is a day to celebrate women’s achievements and how far women have progressed in their fight for equality and fairness. It is also a day that calls for a change to gender inequality that still exists today.

This year’s campaign theme, #EmbraceEquity, encourages conversations about why equal opportunities aren't enough. People start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action.

Why should we celebrate International Women’s Day?

Another way to think of International Women's Day is as an anti-sexism or anti-women’s discrimination day. Women still do not have an equal playing field with men. We still live in a world that prioritises men.

On Australia’s first International Women’s Day in 1928, women in Sydney called for equal pay for equal work, an 8-hour working day and paid leave. Nearly 100 years on, we are still calling for pay parity and equal opportunities for women. Women face systemic barriers to career progression, and their financial well-being and lives are at stake.

Some women may feel that their gender doesn’t hold them back in their lives. But what about women in repressed countries, women who are less privileged and already face discrimination because they seek asylum, have disabilities or are First Nations?

Even if you don't celebrate the day for yourself, think about acknowledging the day for others.

To achieve gender equity, we must elevate women. Push them as high as possible to be seen, and amplify their voices to be heard to achieve gender parity. That’s what International Women's Day is for.

Amplifying women’s voices

For International Women’s Day this year, we asked women across Life Without Barriers to share their reflections.

Image: A collage of photos that includes close-ups of Michelle, Lara, and Lorna.

Lara Ghobrial, NISS Policy Advisor

"When the team approached me, one of the questions raised was, have you experienced discrimination because of your gender?

"I instantly thought that as a brown female migrant, coming from a country where the staunch patriarchal character of governments continues to impact the movement towards gender equality and instead reinforces structural inequities, undoubtedly, I have experienced gender discrimination in one form or another.

"Although triggered by this reflection, I quickly remembered how privileged I am."

"I have had an excellent education, and I come from a relatively affluent background with many career and life choices at my disposal. Unlike many of the refugee and asylum seeker women we support, who have shared the significant impact such inequalities have had on their basic human rights.

"While some countries have made the slowest progress on gender equality across multiple indicators and indices, we are fortunate in Australia, where we have come a long way. However, there are some considerable gaps where more work is yet to be done.

"Equally, I feel that we are very fortunate at Life Without Barriers, where we don’t shy away from the dialogue, where diversity is celebrated, differences are embraced, innovation is encouraged, and where we have a strong presence of female leadership. All of which form a great foundation for the work ahead of us in this space."

Michelle Murray, Senior Manager of Education

"In Learning Without Barriers, we advocate for the right supports for girls and young women at all stages of their education journeys that help them find the opportunities, employment and worlds that they want to enjoy and thrive in.

"It’s because of this work, this International Women’s Day, I continue to think and reflect on the ongoing gender pay inequities for females in our society. Something our girls and young women will be a legacy of if we continue down the path of inequity.

"I’ve worked in education most of my life, and in doing so, I have worked in a sector that is predominately female. I’ve also worked in health where, yes, the majority workforce is female. 

"So while it is essential that we promote women’s employment in all fields of work, including roles in more male-dominated fields, at the same time, we need to value more highly the work that is being done largely by women in education and health fields and reflect this through better pay and conditions. 

"This is essential if we want to seriously start addressing the gender pay inequities we have in this Nation."

Lorna Genoud, Education Consultant

"Amplifying the voice of young women is essential in creating a more equitable society. There are multiple conditions that promote female inclusion, participation, and potential. Some key areas that need to be addressed include school uniforms, eating at school and participation in sports.

"Uniforms can often be a source of inequality for young women. Many schools have strict dress codes that require girls to wear skirts or dresses, which can be uncomfortable or impractical for certain activities, such as sport.

"Additionally, uniforms designed for boys may not fit or flatter a young woman’s body, which can make them feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. To promote equity, schools should consider offering a wider range of uniform options designed with young women’s needs and preferences in mind.

"Regarding why girls may feel uncomfortable to eat at school, there can be several reasons. I have noticed a lot of teen girls that have told me, ‘girls don’t eat at school’ or ‘it is embarrassing for girls to eat at school’. I have also had carers tell me that their young teen refuses to eat at school in front of people and is extremely hungry when they get home.

"One reason is the pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards, which can lead to negative body image and disordered eating. Girls have also noted to me that boys have made comments about girls being ‘big’ or ‘fat’, which is why they don’t eat.

"There are also a number of social norms around food and eating, which can create a hostile environment for girls; for example, girls may be criticised or shamed for eating certain foods or eating too much, while boys are praised for having a big appetite.

"This double standard can make girls feel judged or policed on their food choices."

"Participation in sports is important for young women to develop confidence, leadership skills, and physical fitness. However, girls are often discouraged from participating in sports due to a lack of resources, support and representation.

"To promote equity, schools should invest in programs and facilities that support girls’ participation in sports and actively recruit and promote female coaches and athletes. I have had many girls tell me that they often get in trouble at school for wearing their sports uniform when it is not a sport day; they stated they wanted to participate in lunchtime sports but could not do this in their mandated school dress. This is another barrier for young women accessing sports.

"Overall, promoting equity for young women in schools requires a multifaceted approach addressing various social, cultural, and institutional barriers. By amplifying the voices of young women and creating conditions that support their inclusion, participation, and potential, we can create a more just and equitable society for all.

Lorna also shared her reflections on embracing equity in the poem below.

Amplifying young women’s voices, for equity, a vital choice.

School uniforms can be a bind, limiting movement, body and mind.

Girls may feel uncomfortable to eat, judged and policed by social deceit.

Beauty standards and food shaming, creating barriers that need taming.

Participation in sports is key, for confidence, leadership and glee.

Lack of resources, support and rep, hurdles that young women intercept.

To promote equity we must act, break down barriers and unfair contract.

Amplify young women’s voice, for a just and equitable choice.

Image: International Women’s Day Banner for 2023. Written is; IWD 2023, 8 March in white on a purple background. ‘Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future’ is on the left with the UN Women Australia logo. There is a graphic of three women.

How can you celebrate International Women’s Day?

Everyone can celebrate International Women’s Day by using the occasion to admire the women around us, celebrate how far women have come, call out inequality and highlight how far we have to go for gender equity.

Here are some ideas of what you can do:

  • Post on your social media account to celebrate the day (and acknowledge women you admire by tagging them) and using tags #CrackingTheCode and #IWD2023.

  • Reach out to the important women in your life.

  • Speak to children and young people about inspiring women in history or your own family history and why we celebrate International Women’s Day.

  • Donate to a woman’s cause charity.

  • Educate yourself about gender inequality that still exists today.

  • Read inspiring books written by women.

Let’s make the best of this important day. It’s up to all of us to challenge gender stereotypes, call out discrimination, draw attention to bias, and seek out inclusion.

Diversity and inclusion at Life Without Barriers

At Life Without Barriers, we celebrate diversity, and we practice inclusion.

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