The blog posting on this date last year furnished observations from our gender and social equity focal persons in Bolivia, Kosovo, Mozambique, Nepal, and Vietnam on how International Women’s Day is celebrated in their countries. This year, I thought I’d ask some (unfairly selected) male colleagues what they think of 8th March – from a personal perspective, and as far as we are concerned within the organisation. Here a selection of reactions.
Why one day in the year?
A number of my colleagues expressed reservations about having a single day in the year to acknowledge women; their view may be summarised by Ben Blumenthal, Co-Team Leader, Governance and Peace
“The fight for parity between women and men should not be limited to a one day commemoration: it should be our responsibility to work towards gender equality each and every day…”
Perhaps the day can even reinforce gender stereotypes – this, at least, is the view of Norbert Pijls, Project Manager of the decentralisation and municipal support project DEMOS, on how it is celebrated in Kosovo:
“Unfortunately [here] it is not about improving the gender balance. It is about buying flowers for your mother, girlfriend, wife or female colleagues. And with that it contributes to gender typecasting”.
Reasons to celebrate
Most of those asked, however, were of the view that having a special women’s day is at very least a pleasant opportunity to acknowledge the role of women in their personal lives, and professionally. Christian Steiner, Markus Ischer, and Bharat Pokharel – Country Directors in Madagascar, Kyrgyzstan and Nepal respectively – wrote of special celebrations amongst women staff in the office. Balthasar Stammbach, Head of our Acquisitions Team in Switzerland, recalled a women’s day in the early 2000s, when he was based in Haiti. “The minister of Women affairs came from far Port-au-Prince saying it was the first event of this kind in Haiti. Approx. 200 women exchanged experiences, challenges, failures, hopes, dreams and concrete successes… An incredibly good event, it also had a great effect on those in our project areas, including men – noticing this topic being at the top of the agenda…”
There were also more personal observations.
“It is a day of celebration and reflection of change that is happening within me in terms of thinking the way I see the world of gender disparity and injustice and the desired behaviour within myself” Bharat Pokharel
“I always think of my late mother who took care of most household chores even though she had a part time job. This pattern is rarely seen today where the unpaid care work is typically equally distributed within the Danish household. Nevertheless, there are still advancements to be made….” Jesper Lauridsen, Senior Adviser, Governance (for the sceptical, recent OECD figures indicate Danish men do take on more unpaid work than many others).
A rights perspective
Some focused on the significance of the day within the framework of civil rights movements overall.
“The 8th of March 1965 also marked a turning point in the civil rights movement: a peaceful march in Washington turned into a nasty clash between demonstrators and riot police…just as civil rights are important to us, gender equity is too. It is a day we should celebrate in a meaningful way.” Matthias Herr, Co-Team Leader Eastern Europe.
“In the years after 1968 – in my teens – gender issues were qualified as a sort of side interest. The main theme of protest was the capitalist-working class power dynamics. Looking back, I now think that progress in gender questions is the most important achievement of the 1968 movement.” Hanspeter Bundi, Editor, Communications Team.
Reflections on the position of women in our partner countries
Taking us back to the daily realities of our work, the following are more sober observations: from Honduras, on the risks of being a woman leader, and Bangladesh, on the “invisibility” of women’s work.
Erik Nijland, Senior Adviser in Central America, commented, “This year no doubt the killing of Berth Caceres will overwhelm my thoughts. Although she is not any more among us, her spirit will continue to inspire us and be an example for future generations of leaders who will continue with the struggle for a more just society.” Berth Caceres was murdered in her home on 3 March.
Kaspar Grossenbacher, Country Director in Bangladesh, made the following observations. “From my last Bangla language lesson I learned that the female form of the Bangla word for farmer, kishani, is not in use; only the term krishak (farmer) is used – which refers to men only. More “professionally”, I recently found out that the entire process of rice production requires 22 activities, from sowing of paddy to bringing it home as food; out of these 22 activities 17 are performed by women. Another lesson from my Bangla class is that there is a term for household work (shangsharer kaj) which encompasses not only reproductive work, but also activities like seed storage, drying of paddy, poultry rearing, etc. Compare this with a new study which explains that in Bangladesh most women remain outside the System of National Accounts (SNA), as they neither bring products to market nor are paid for their labour. What is new in this study is the finding that on an average, a woman member of a (rural) household undertakes 12.1 non-SNA activities on a typical day. The corresponding figure for a man is 2.7!”
Thanks to all my colleagues who provided their thoughts.