International Women’s Day is in danger of becoming little more than a corporate Valentine’s Day, with companies jumping on the bandwagon to whitewash their brands rather than promote women’s equality, leading feminists have said.
With International Women’s Day products on offer from red roses to hipster T-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as “Woman Up”, equal rights campaigners have called on companies to take action and donate to grassroots causes on International Women’s Day, which takes place on Sunday, rather than using it as a promotional opportunity.
Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of the Women’s Resource Centre, said: “This use of International Women’s Day by companies is part of the co-option of feminism and women’s equality into a much more mainstream position, that has led to the corporatisation of the advancement of women’s rights.Advertisement
“There’s a risk that it becomes an event a bit like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day instead of giving visibility to the work that women are doing around the world.”
Hayes is a leading figure in the Million Women Rise march, for which thousands of women will head to central London on Saturday to protest against violence against women and girls. All members of the collective are volunteers and the event, in its 13th year, has no corporate sponsorship or formal funding. It is strictly a women-only march – if men want to get involved, they are politely asked to “babysit children while your mum, partner, sister, daughter, friend or relative, attends the march”.
In recent years McDonald’s was accused of “McFeminism”, when it turned the company’s golden arches upside down to form the letter W, while the brewer Brewdog was accused of cynical marketing after releasing a pink beer around International Women’s Day, ostensibly to raise awareness about gender pay inequality and sexist advertising.
But International Women’s Day was born out of a movement of working class women who marched through New York in 1908 demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights, with the first National Women’s Day held the following year.
This year marks 10 years since the establishment of UN Women, and the 20th anniversary of the UN security council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The 2020 UN theme is “I am Generational Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”.
On Sunday another march, organised by Care International, will go through London, the event promising “stars from stage and screen marching shoulder-to-shoulder with grassroots campaigners for gender equality and climate justice”.
There is a way for brands and companies to get involved in International Women’s Day, according to Liv Little, founder of gal-dem, a magazine created by women of colour. But they must show long-term, genuine commitment to be part of positive change. Feminism is for life, not just for International Women’s Day, she said.
Little says: “When you are a woman of colour, it can feel like you are only of interest during that one week in March, and of course people are doing this work all year round. I think it’s really important that people have an understanding of the political roots of the day because that’s easily lost in fancy dinners and slogan T-shirts.”
If brands want to jump on the bandwagon, they should open their sizeable wallets, said Katie Russell of Rape Crisis, who is walking on fire before International Women’s Day to raise money for Support After Rape and Sexual Violence Leeds.
Russell said: “It’s only acceptable if some of the money that companies are making through aligning themselves with International Women’s Day is being ploughed back into women’s charities and services. If it’s just about making money for a brand it’s just completely inappropriate and cynical.”
But wall to wall coverage of the event – in whatever guise – could be beneficial to the women’s movement overall, said Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society.
“I have mixed feelings about it, because for us to succeed in advancing women’s rights then we really need to get people who are not currently engaged and involved to be part of that cause,” she said. “It’s nice people get excited about it but actually making a difference is hard work – and that takes more than just wearing a T-shirt.”
Source: The Guardian