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    INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2022 – BREAK THE BIAS

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    By Vicki Milliken

    International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women worldwide across cultural, political, social and economic spheres. Marked annually on March 8, which in 2022 falls on a Tuesday, it is also a day to re-imagine cultural assumptions and to commit to action.

    This year’s theme is Break the Bias. A call to action to use our everyday thoughts and behaviours to recognise and call out bias, discrimination, and the stereotyping of women. The goal is a life free of prejudice within our communities, workplaces, schools, colleges and universities, not just one day.

    The seeds for International Women’s Day can be traced back to 1848, nearly 175 years ago, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the Declaration of Sentiments, for the women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. This pivotal document called for women to have the same rights as men in education, employment and before the law.

    In 1908, 15,000 garment workers went on strike in New York, marching in the streets demanding change, asking for shorter working hours, equal wages, and voting rights. After a year of protests, the Socialist Party of America organized the first National Women’s Day on February 28, 1909.

    Inspired by this, the Second International Socialist Women’s Conference held in Denmark in 1910 approved the idea of an International Women’s Day. It was supported by 100 delegates from 17 countries. And so on March 19, 1911, the first International Working Women’s Day, as it was initially called, was celebrated with rallies in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

    Australia was slow to embrace the cause. Our first International Women’s Day celebration wasn’t until March 25, 1928. The rally was organised by the Militant Women’s Group of the Communist Party and held in Sydney’s Domain. Better conditions in the factory, shop and home, education for the working class and solidarity were key priorities.

    In March 1947 the Sydney Tribune wrote ‘Many thousands of women in capitalist countries today are looking towards the conditions their sisters now enjoy in the Soviet Union and the near-socialist countries of Europe and are gaining new hope and inspiration for their own future and the future of their daughters.’

    For decades, the day remained strongly connected with working women’s rights and often portrayed as a class fight against capitalism. Celebrations and demonstrations were the province of women in socialist countries and socialist women in democratic countries.

    The 1970s is recognised as the period of heavy lifting for the women’s movement in Australia. The decade raised consciousness about those areas of a woman’s life which went beyond a working women’s rights—rape, abortion, medical manipulation by doctors, family violence and many others. But arguments that lesbianism was the only real political and sexual choice for women during this time also alienated many—both men and women.

    As Mary Wright, an active leader in the women’s movement since the 1920s, said in an interview for The Australia Women’s Weekly in 1978, ‘Women’s Liberation missed the point. They put man against woman. It was an enmity thing … We don’t want to fight men. We like them. We need them. We just want to be equal citizens.’

    A view echoed by the UN’s Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, in 2014. ‘How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation? Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.’

    Men aren’t the only ones that have felt excluded from the movement. Hobsons Bay resident, Pam Davison’s connection to the day has only been recent. In the 1980s, working as a legal PA, she recalls a lunch at the Lyceum Club in Melbourne that wasn’t open to ‘… the “nonprofessional staff” as we were referred to back then, as it was exclusive to “professional staff” only. We … assumed it was a Women’s Day for the professional woman. What I find interesting is that it was celebrating women and yet, the female non-lawyers were excluded.’

    Perhaps, as Pam’s story highlights, the true value of International Women’s Day is as a reminder to women to value themselves and to challenge their own biases, not just as a reminder to others to reflect and reassess theirs.

    In 2022, the aspirations of the women I spoke to for this article can be boiled down to living in a time ‘when we’re not judged by double standards’; not having ‘to be a certain kind of woman to be celebrated’; as an ‘opportunity to acknowledge [our] strength and be inspired by it’; and to ‘celebrate the direct and radical among us’.

    Let’s also acknowledge those ordinary men and women who are chipping away at the tenets of the fabric of our society with a quiet, unwavering determination. A reminder that if the aspiration for a life, not just one day is to be fulfilled, our collective everyday actions and life choices are those that will propel us forward faster, further, deeper and higher.

    Together, let’s Break the Bias.

    Vicki Milliken is a freelance writer, Hobsons Bay homegrown author and Louis Joel Arts and Community Centre volunteer.

    Louis Joel Arts and Community Centre in Altona is celebrating International Women’s Day on Tuesday, March 8 recognising the aspirations and achievements of women around the globe. Participate in a restorative Tai Chi class; nurture your creativity decorating a pot plant; or meet new friends over afternoon tea. All welcome. Go to ljac.com.au for more details.

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