International Women’s Day this year focuses on women in the changing world of work, with a goal of equality in the workforce by 2030 (in line, of course with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals). In many ways this is a perfectly straightforward vision, in line too with all the work that has been done over the past few years (decades, even), to help develop and sustain equality across the globe, in all aspects of life, so that we eventually reach a stage where all human beings are valued equally.
What struck me this week as I travelled internationally, on a plane travelling to Bahrain for an education conference, was that we are absolutely missing an opportunity to pursue this vision if we do not think more ambitiously about the ‘International Women’ in International Women’s Day. For most of us, we recognise Women’s Day on 8 March as International because – amazingly, if you think about where we have come from over the past years – it is celebrated across the world, with women (and men) standing in unity and a shared commitment to gender equality and normalising this equality in local and national contexts across the world. We have come so far, in such a short space of time, in fact … and while there is much more to do to tackle bias (unconscious and conscious), International Women’s Day is also a celebration of what we have managed to achieve.
There is something missing from the dialogue, however. Much of the celebration and focus on 8 March is country-centric, and yet we live in a world which is globally connected as never before. Digital technologies give us the opportunity to work with anyone, anywhere in the world, at a moment’s notice; our transport infrastructure means that it is easier, quicker and cheaper than ever before to travel internationally. The financial and economic hurdles to our global understanding are smaller than they have ever been, and the global opportunities are greater than they have ever been. When we become truly international, we learn to embrace others as they are, and to appreciate both difference and essential sameness. International understanding is a foundation stone of global understanding, and it presents countless opportunities that can break cycles of poverty, and emancipate individuals and systems.
We know that opportunities are meaningless unless they are grasped, and if we are to encourage our next generations of women to go beyond where they currently are, and grasp the opportunities which are now available to them, then we need to set an example now. International women – women who think internationally, act internationally and live internationally … this is who we can become if we stretch ourselves and make the effort to break down the social, emotional and practical barriers that stop us from being internationally minded role models.
And in doing so, we will make the life pathways of our daughters – across the world – just that little bit easier.