INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY #BreakTheBias: Small actions make big changes
International Women’s Day (IWD) is synonymous with a call to action, and 2022 is no different. In the age of intersectionality, IWD stays on track with the ambition to #BreakTheBias. Looking towards small actions make big changes, this year’s theme aims to target the everyday biases that are found in our communities, workplaces and teaching institutions. It calls for all people to take part in removing stereotypes and discrimination by celebrating diversity and difference.
IWD is asking everyone to ‘strike a pose for solidarity’. It’s a small action to show that you will call out the inequalities and want to break the bias. However, do small actions really work in achieving changes?
When we think of actions that have caused great changes, it conjures up images of marching suffragettes and women’s liberation protests, all yelling for the rights of women while waving placards. There is no doubt these actions propelled the rights of women, but these images are now from bygone times. In recent years, the greatest changes have come from ‘small actions’ that are consistent, and many. In the following, I want to celebrate just some of the amazing achievements from ‘small actions’ by women (and supporters) throughout the world.
2006 IRAN: ONE MILLION SIGNATURES
In 2006, Iranian women organised a simple and effective campaign to reform laws that discriminated against women. They aimed to get one million Iranian citizens to sign a petition asking Parliament for equal rights, including marriage and divorce rights, an end to polygamous marriages, equal inheritance rights, equal rights to testimony in the country, harsher punishments for honour killings, and more.
Even though the two-year campaign never reached its million-signature goal, it did manage to make significant changes to the lives of Iranian women. Its main aim was to raise awareness to the public of the discrimination and, according to its campaign organisers, “No one is afraid to talk about more rights for women anymore. This is a big achievement.”
Iranian women today make up over 60% of university graduates, are getting married on average at age 25 (despite 13 being legal age), and polygamous marriages now require equal consent of all parties. While the laws still lack parity with men, further legislation has gained more protection for women. Despite harassment and arrests, activists continue the fight for equality and their One Million campaign brought the plight of Iranian women to the international stage.
2011: SAUDI ARABIA DRIVING BAN
The raise of social media platforms was instrumental in gaining global attention for Saudi Arabian women and their right to drive. In one of the largest en masse actions, women took to their devises and launched continuing posts on Facebook and Twitter to highlight the injustices and organise protests of the driving ban.
Many women were arrested or detained, and the posts triggered an intensified crackdown on activists. However, their efforts weren’t ignored and their cause grabbed global attention. With increased pressure and the country’s desire to further financial ties with the West, King Salman issued a statement recognising the right of Saudi women to drive in 2018. Tens of thousands of licenses have been issued to women across the country giving them the freedom of movement they’ve never had before.
2012: UGANDA GRASSROOTS BAN OF FGC
In 2012, the United Nations unanimously voted to ban female genital cutting (FGC). This cultural tradition is considered an initiation into adulthood, but has long proved to be painful, medically unnecessary and often dangerous to millions of women and girls around the world.
The UN resolution was a huge win after the many years of activism to bring this issue to international attention. However, little changed in practice until grassroots engagement through education and community involvement sought change at the cultural level.
In Uganda, FGC was banned in 2010. Unfortunately this did little to stop the process but instead saw the practice go underground. Realising that the community believed the practice was a necessity for young girls, activists sought to educate the impact of FGC to the gatekeepers of the culture and social norms – the community elders. By engaging the community directly, through media and education, the community is now championing its own program of change. There are currently over 60 community activists in Uganda who work tirelessly to bring about this ban and continue to spread change.
2015: EMMA SULKOWICZ ‘CARRY THAT WEIGHT’
Emma Sulkowicz, better known as ‘Mattress Girl’, carried a 23kg dorm mattress around Columbia University in nearly a year-long visual arts thesis between September 2014 and May 2015. Using the slogan, ‘Carry That Weight’, Emma used her art performance to protest the college’s lack of action to remove a student she accused of sexual violence towards her.
Emma’s actions brought attention to the issues of sexual violence on university campuses, which rarely ended in legal or educational consequences for the perpetrators. It received national and international notice and triggered further protests on other campuses and universities throughout the US. Carry That Weight campaign created real changes in the university system on how they deal and investigate sexual assault allegations. While legal protection for victims on campuses still have a long way to go, other movements have taken off, such as End Rape on Campus and #MeToo.
2017: #METOO MOVEMENT TAKES OFF
Activist Tarana Burke first termed the use of ‘Me Too’ back in 2006. Its aim was to be a platform for victims to show they are not alone, and also demonstrate how wide spread the extent of sexual harassment has effected so many people. Since then, thousands of people have shared their stories thanks to celebrity voices joining the movement and adding their experiences to the already startling number of accounts.
The movement really took off in 2017, after accusations of sexual assault against Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein were made public. The wave of allegations detailing the inherent culture of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry finally came to light. In response, actor Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” The avalanche of replies encouraged other women everywhere to come forward to tell their story. This movement quickly catapulted around the world and has made big impacts finding justice and voices for victims.
2020: GROWING TREND OF ETHICAL FASHION
In the early 1990s, Nike was subjected to one of the biggest boycotts of the fashion industry. Not only were they exposed for their environmental breaches, but the full impact of terrible working conditions and low wages were highlighted in their Indonesian factories. It was soon revealed Nike was the tip of the iceberg, and the entire corporate culture of the fashion industry revolved around increasing profits at the expense of the environment, workers’ rights and the unethical treatment of animals.
The Nike boycott triggered the concept of ethical fashion and, 30 years on, we now see the raise of many eco conscious brands. It also forced many established brands to learn from the past and create better and safer practices for its workers, as well as take responsibility for their impact on the environmental policy.
In 2006, EFF was established with the aim to create fashion brands with a ‘positive environmental and social impact’. Starting with only 20 members, it now has thousands across the world and has helped lots of businesses produce ethical and sustainable work practices in the fashion industry.
All these achievements were started with small actions and with the aim to raise awareness of the issue. They all triggered real change and social impact for women on a global stage. So, why not be part of the change and strike a pose for #BreakTheBias?