International Women’s Day: Make It Happen

In 1977, the UN invited member states to proclaim 8th March as the UN Day for women’s rights, and countries worldwide have been celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) ever since. This year also marked the 20th anniversary of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, where 189 countries signed an action plan that identified 12 critical areas to empower women.

But twenty years on, even in the most developed areas of the world, women still do not have equal pay. If gender equality is achieved by 2030, only the women graduating this year will be the first to benefit from equal pay at the height of their earning potential. In Britain, women are still responsible for over 80% of domestic chores. What’s five per cent of 500? 25. That’s also the number of Fortune 500 CEOs who are women. Given the 50-50 splits of the sexes, these are hardly positive figures. And this is in countries that supposedly have ‘equal rights’.

Half a century of conferences, commitments and resolutions has brought us far in terms of gender equality. But this year’s IWD – themed ‘Make It Happen’ – served as a reminder of how far we have to go. At the opening of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York on 9th March, government ministers adopted a political declaration confirming their commitment to achieve gender equality by 2030, 55 years after the UN proclaimed a ‘Decade of Women’ in 1975.

This year’s theme felt painfully relevant. IWD was hard to miss due to the multitude of memes covering social media. But how much action was taken relative to posting on Facebook? Last year’s #BringBackOurGirls reached the White House Instagram account, with everyone from Michelle Obama to Cara Delevingne protesting the quietly ignored kidnapping of 270 young women by Boko Haram in Nigeria. This year, very few were pointing out that approximately 230 of those women are still missing – we do not even know the exact number.

At Pembroke, the ‘make it happen’ theme that is highlighted internationally began last year. Alongside the progressive work done by recent Women’s Officers, PemWomen@30 has been working to mainstream gender and diversity issues in College. As a community, the College has celebrated talent, held careers events and explored the history of women at Pembroke, amongst other themes.

On IWD 2015, the committee went to formal hall.


As much a celebration of PemWomen@30 so far, it was a chance to look ahead at next term’s work and the legacy the campaign will leave behind. The committee spans undergraduates, Masters students, PhD students, Fellows and staff, with a multitude of subjects and societies represented.

Pemwomen group photo

IWD is about celebrating women, but it is also about campaigning for change and making it happen: next term, and even next year, PemWomen@30 is looking to bring that to Pembroke.

As students graduate and leave, however, it is worth remembering that we should be looking beyond Pembroke, at the severe gender inequality outside our secure and equal bubble. In a media environment where feminism increasingly has to be defined by what it’s not (it’s not a battle of the sexes, it’s not aligned to any particular political party), it is right that people are talking about gender issues and publicising them. But globally we have a responsibility to do something outside the comfort zone of our phone, tablet or blog.

So celebrate IWD, and let’s appreciate the efforts PemWomen@30 are making close to home. But let’s also remember; we’re a long way away from no longer needing it.

Helena Roy (2013, Economics)