International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900s. It is not affiliated with one country or group, instead bringing together governments, citizens and organizations to recognize women for their achievements without regard to national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political divisions.
Every year, leaders, social commentators, advocates and citizens alike make public statements on March 8 paying tribute to all the strides taken in the name of gender equality and the empowerment of women. We give thanks to the mothers who raised us, the sisters who tolerated us, the wives who love us and the colleagues who support us. We categorize the women in our lives according to the roles they play, forgetting that – as is the case with being a man – just being a woman is enough.
I began following the news surrounding International Women’s Day years ago. Year after year, the statements resonate with the sound of those from the year before. I wonder if this year will sound any different?
In 2017, women’s rights dominated the news, with a global reckoning on sexual misconduct rippling through industries and manifested in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.
This past year we witnessed transformative change in favor of women’s rights in the Arab world as well. Jordan repealed its law allowing rapists to avoid punishment if they marry their victims. The UAE government reshuffled its cabinet to include nine female ministers, almost one third of all the members.
The most impressive and dramatic change came from Saudi Arabia, who stepped on the reform accelerator so fast we did not know what to celebrate most.
By the end of 2017, King Salman had ordered reform in a royal decree requesting that driver’s licenses be issued to women who want them, overturning a long-standing, cornerstone policy that has grown to become a cliched critique of the Kingdom. Reforms in favor of equal rights for women followed. Women in Saudi Arabia no longer need male permission to open businesses. They can now enter previously male-only sports stadiums.
After more than a century of marking International Women’s Day, the only way we will achieve true gender equality is to get rid of the annual occasion and start appreciating and honoring the achievements of women every day of the yearAsma I. Abdulmalik
Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor’s office opened the door for female investigators to apply for 140 positions. Amazingly, 100,000 women applied.
All of these developments show that the promotion and advancement of women’s rights in the Arab region has gained momentum and great social acceptance.
However, it is not nearly enough.
You may find it preposterous, considering we still have a long way to go and so much more to change, but do you not think dedicating just one day to celebrate women is counter-productive?
Consider the Valentine’s Day argument conservatives like to broach every Feb. 14, for example, when they suggest that love should be celebrated every day. Should women not also be appreciated every day?
I firmly believe every day will be women’s day when we stop celebrating it once a year, just like we do not dedicate a day to celebrate men’s achievements.
As societal stereotypes continue to break down, women have broken through glass ceilings in many fields that were traditionally considered men’s domains, and began embarking on the unconventional. Yes, we already have female ministers, business owners, pilots and parliamentarians. However, stories about the first women to conquer Everest or the first female president of the UAE Federal National Council should no longer be anomalies, but must be the norm.
We should no longer be celebrating new policy gains or positive changes in social and traditional norms, because we have already broken every glass ceiling. We should now aspire to have the system designed for men and women alike, and not adjusted for women later. We will, I believe, celebrate women when we no longer celebrate her “firsts.”
We should celebrate when we have guaranteed equal pay for women. When we ensure that all women who have been subjected to abuse, in all its forms and manifestations, are protected by the legal systems in their countries, and when they are no longer socially stigmatized for violence inflicted on them. When they are not stripped of their identity and citizenship if they choose to marry a foreigner. And when they are free to make their own decisions.
We will celebrate when child brides are no longer celebrated. When our leaders and representatives no longer perpetuate gender stereotypes and sexist speech on social media. When we understand and admit that there are changes that need to be made to achieve equality between genders. When every day becomes a day to celebrate our achievements, our advancements and our wins.
So on Thursday, in celebration of International Women’s Day, my one wish is to stop celebrating International Women’s Day.
Asma I. Abdulmalik is an Emirati civil servant and writer interested in gender and development issues.Twitter: @Asmaimalik