March is Women’s History Month and this year’s theme is “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.” The annual event highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. It also takes place around the International Women’s Day on March 8th, which calls on the masses to forge a better working world that is more inclusive and gender equal.
This year, following the Women’s Marches that took place around the world in January, a new event was established. A Day Without Women (or the International Women’s Strike) takes after similar movements, by focusing on a marginalized group (in this instance women) who will act together for equity, justice and the human rights through a one-day demonstration of economic solidarity.
To recognize the value that women add to socio-economic systems, women and allies are being encouraged to participate in one of the following ways:
- Take the day off from paid and unpaid labor
- Avoid shopping for one day, with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses
- Wear red in solidarity
Organizers say this event is an opportunity for activists to raise their voices and say that “women’s rights are human rights, regardless of a woman’s race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age or disability.”
As with the Women’s Marches, this sort of movement isn’t new. In 1975, an estimated 90% of Iceland’s women refused to work inside or outside the home to protest wage inequity. The event is largely credited with elevating Vigdis Finnbogadottir, the first woman to be elected head of state in a national election to Iceland’s presidency in 1980. Last fall, Polish women went on strike to protest a proposed ban on all abortions, causing widespread disruption to businesses, traffic and government offices, and gaining international media coverage. In fact, the idea itself can be traced as far back as 411 BCE with Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata, an account of a woman’s mission to end the Peloponnesian War by denying all the men of the land any sex.
Following some of the backlash seen after the Women’s March, one would hope that the next event of this movement would strive for true inclusivity. However, one journalist has already written, “make no mistake, March 8 will mostly be a day without women who can afford to skip work and shuffle childcare and household duties to someone else, and shop at stores that are likely to open at 10 and close at 5.”
The movement may stem from good intentions and a successful history of similar events, a movement that actively boasts inclusivity is nothing without actions to match their words. In North Carolina, the debate flared when a school superintendent planned to cancel classes on March 8th because so many staff members planned to participate. While some applauded the decision and praised it as a gesture of support for the female staff, others criticized it for forcing many parents to stay home to care for their children or find and pay for back-up care. One day-care provider summed it up by saying, “If I don’t work, [parents] don’t work, and if they can’t work, they don’t get paid.” Similar debates have broken out over multiple states in the days leading up to International Women’s Day.
While the organizers do try to address the issue of privilege in taking a day off of work, the chasm between the privileged and the less-so is creating tension not just across the country, but within the feminist movement. While a large group of privileged feminists will certainly make their presence, or lack thereof, well known, it will be business as usual for millions of other women who have no other choice. Other ways to show support today include wearing the color red and and refraining from buying goods from any stores not owned by women or minorities.
Are you participating in A Day Without Women? Share your story and let us know what the movement means to you.