International Women’s Day 2019

March 7th, 2019

After Black History Month in February, Women’s History Month is observed in March. Contained within it, March 8th is International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter. Though the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8th in 1975, it has taken several decades for the observance to catch on across the member states of the UN. International Women’s Day has its roots as a socialist observance to celebrate the work of women and argue for equal rights, including suffrage. Nowadays, the focus is on gender equity and celebrating the achievements of women in political, social, economic, and cultural spheres.

The theme for 2019, #BalanceforBetter, emphasizes the importance of gender balance in all spheres of living, from government to business. Despite advances in rights and in parity, gender-balanced boardrooms and legislative bodies are still extremely rare. Whether it’s balance in wealth or sports coverage, women lag behind men. For example, ESPN has ESPNW, a sub-section of the mainwebsite that focuses on women’s sports. But it’s telling that women’s sports coverage is different and specialized, that it’s separated from in default coverage that presumes men’s sports.

#BalanceforBetter can also be applied to churches and church leadership. Even when women make up the majority of people in the pews, they rarely see themselves represented in the most prestigious and powerful pulpits. Church and society still value male leadership over female leadership, and this is reflected in how few women serve in “big steeple” churches. Denominations that ordain women may think that they have achieved gender equity, but the statistics on leadership and compensation prove otherwise.

When half of the world’s population is underrepresented in all sorts of arenas, we all suffer. Part of the call of the 2019 theme is for us to be aware of the make-up of our committees, our leadership teams, and our legislatures. We need to look around and ask ourselves who is missing, whose voices aren’t we hearing. It happens less frequently, but all too often, I look around and see that I am the only woman at the table. My own experience is limited by the privilege that I have in my race, education, class, and sexual orientation, so just serving as a token woman is not enough representation.

#BalanceforBetter also asks us to wonder why women are underrepresented, beyond reasons of sexism. Cultural and economic expectations, particularly with regard to caring for families often prevent women from engaging more in the public sphere. Partners that do their fair share of the labor at home and government policies that support families can go a long way towards encouraging balanced gender representation in the public sphere.

This International Women’s Day, those celebrating are invited to take a picture with their arms extended to the side like a balanced scale and post with the hashtags #BalanceforBetter and #IWD2019. All genders can participate in commending balance and striving for a more just and equitable society in which no one group has a disproportionate amount of power.

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