Stop celebrating Women’s Day

Another International Women’s Day (IWD) has passed, and with it another barrage of special offers on clothes, jewellery, perfumes, and spas that made it all about consumerism rather than an acknowledgement that, overall, women are not treated as the equal of men, and that we need to do better. All day on March 8, I saw the women on my social media timeline expressing their weariness with this tokenism and, yes, opportunism on the parts of marketers and advertisers who think that IWD is a perfect time to flog all manner of ‘feminine’ things to women.

Perhaps a slightly different choice of word might help brands spend those advertising and marketing rupees that are burning a hole in their pockets. Instead of celebrating IWD, why not observe it with all the solemnity with which we accord a religious fast, or a day like Muharrum or Good Friday? Why not let it be a day in which we take special pains to point out how much we fall short on this count, and what must be done?


From the perspective of consumer-facing companies it might be useful for them to report publicly on how much equality they have within the organisations that are behind them. There are many questions they can answer (and readers are invited to suggest more which the writer of this piece might not see because of male privilege).

These questions could include: What percentage of their workforce do women constitute? How many of their senior leadership are women? Bonus points for women CEOs. Are women paid the same as men for doing the same job? What is their policy on maternity leave? Do they also have equal amounts of paternity leave which they insist men take so that they also take equal responsibility for parenthood? Do they have a room for nursing mothers? Do they have childcare facilities? Have they stopped making things for women that are default coloured pink? Could garment sellers make women’s clothes with pockets? Not all women want to carry handbags because there are either no pockets or tiny ones on their clothes. Do they market to women in the same way they market to men? Do they target both genders, like sell pressure cookers to men, cars to women? (Obviously, this is aside from products that cater only to women’s or men’s biological differences.) Do their ads show women and men doing the same things, without tired gender stereotypes? What percentage of their CSR budgets go to women’s rights issues? If they have a good record on these, they get to brag; otherwise, they shut up.

Over time, we will see more and more companies doing this, until it becomes ubiquitous. And perhaps even boring. Then we might find that the mindless commercialism of IWD has given way to something more meaningful. Perhaps even transformative, as it was meant to be.

The writer is a senior editor with The Hindu in Mumbai

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 8:21:36 AM |

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