International Women’s Day is celebrated globally year each on March 8th, a tradition with roots dating back to the early 1900s. Over a century later, it is now a day both of celebration and community, and of protest and progress, with the United Nations choosing a new theme to focus efforts on annually.
This year, “Balance for Better” is the official IWD campaign tagline, encouraging a gender-balanced world. So where do we see this type of gender discrimination? Boardrooms, government positions, courtrooms, media coverage, paychecks, sports teams, and even day-to-day interactions can be subjected to a gender imbalance where women don’t always get equal opportunities.
It’s something the founder of Swaay encountered in the corporate workplace after becoming a mother, in the early days of fundraising for the company she founded, Kango, and sometimes just walking on the street or waiting for my turn in line. And while I do think that today’s youth are more tolerant and accepting of diversity than ever before, it’s still so important to make sure we teach our children about the discrimination and social issues that women face – and International Women’s Day represents an opportunity to have this discussion with our young ones.
Educate, encourage and inspire them to take the lesson from this holiday and apply it to their everyday life.
Start by having the conversation around the historical milestones that shape why this day is important. Do your sons know that women used to be banned from voting? Imagine not being able to have a say in choosing the lawmakers that directly affect your life. Do your daughters know that even 40 years ago, no woman in the world had ever been a president? Vigdís Finnbogadótti changed that when she was elected President of Iceland in 1980.
Kids might not realize how far equality has come, even in mom and dad’s lifetime. Remind them that strong, brave women paved the path thus far, and it will take strong, brave boys and girls to continue the journey for a better balance.
Secondly, think about the implicit biases that you see on a daily basis, and include those in the discussion. Do your sons understand that saying someone “throws like a girl” should not be an insult? Do your daughters know Barbie can be a veterinarian, an accountant, or a doctor? And she can be a mom, too! It might seem silly to be discussing such nuanced gender roles and biases with young kids, but imagine all of the TV shows, movies, and real-life situations they have seen where gender is portrayed in a rigid or outdated way.
Explaining everyday discrimination will show how, outside of IWD, there are opportunities for improvement. Ask your kids what they can do and how they can act to promote respect and equality with their friends. Foster their curiosity and encourage them to be a leader when they see something that isn’t right.
Lastly, to make an impact, we as moms have to be conscious of our choices, too.
Do we talk about other women negatively? Do we stand up for ourselves and set a good example?
Gender equality starts at home, with our own words and actions. When we think of this year’s IWD theme, we can not only apply that in a general sense, that gender-balance is important in the workplace and government, but can also apply that to our individual selves by making sure we set a personal standard.
If we want to raise children who celebrate equality, we must celebrate equality, too. Recharge your motivation by attending speeches, meetings, events or even protests throughout the year. Call your local legislator to share your opinion on bills impacting women’s rights. Demand that corporations cultivate equality and diversity in their executive positions and throughout their staff.
When you recognize the change that you can create, you show your children how “women’s day” can be celebrated every day. Especially with young men, it shows that International Women’s Day is not about punishing men or saying women are better – it’s about equality for all people.
So when you share the message behind International Women’s Day with your children, remind them that it isn’t about being “nice” to girls for this one day in March. It’s about remembering the past, and working toward a better future. They have the power to be agents of change. Cliché as it sounds, today’s youth will be the CEOs, policymakers, and employees of tomorrow. Raise children who know that the power is in their hands to make a difference.