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International Women’s Day: A Performative Exercise?

Since its inception years ago, International Women's Day has been set aside to constantly appreciate and celebrate women worldwide. However, in recent years, the day seems to have become a performative exercise.

This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD), like it mostly always does, caused a flurry of activities: people posting affectionate tributes dedicated to the women in their livesー mothers, sisters, friends and otherwise. Many companies also tried to celebrate the day with events or understated gatherings to give women a space to discuss relevant issues. As with all other years, there was a theme and hashtag created: “#BreaktheBias” with a cross-body symbol to match.

Ironically, the day dedicated and set aside to both celebrate and uplift women across the world has, over the years, slowly turned to one of the days where women receive the utmost disrespect. To begin with, the theme of the just past IWD was slightly problematic, or better put, the manner in which the theme was interpreted by many was quite questionable. “Break the Bias”, in itself, does not give a meaningful directive besides putting the onus of changing the status quo within society on the victims themselves and a lot of the comments, advertisements and posts confirmed just this, all carrying a similar and disturbing undertone. In reality, women face discrimination, misogyny and gender bias just about everywhere and we are more often than not powerless to stop it. While women are not left out in breaking the bias ー they’re also a product of patriarchal societies and as a result, they’ve been indoctrinated, upholding many patriarchal ideas themselves ー the major onus is on men who are in most cases in a position to make real changes.

Also, International Women’s Day ー particularly in Nigeria ー for some years now has become an avenue for a lot of brands, banks in particular, to post ridiculous ads and make obnoxious comments about the day. Wema Bank, in a ludicrous attempt to celebrate women and encourage breaking the bias, tweeted a picture of a woman on a date, seemingly paying for the date’s expenses with her card that carried a man’s name. After being rightfully called out for the offensive tweet, they dug themselves further into a hole, posting a series of tweets, which by the way made little sense, in a tactless attempt to contain the damage and justify their offensive post.

On a subsidiary Wema account, ALAT also tweeted an animation of a shoddy WhatsApp conversation between two people who seemed to be a man requesting for money from a woman. It’s quite telling the biases these brands choose to address and the nature of conversations they’re looking to spark while sidestepping the obvious and giant elephants in the room. Also, it is important to note that a lot of pretence goes into making it seem that women, a lot of the time, make a large chunck of their money from men. As a result of a number of attractive women or high-profile women benefitting from their privilege, it now seems like the most radical thing a woman can do is handle the bills. It is overworked and lazy.

Like Wema, other brands like Fayrouz and Hypo also missed the mark severely for IWD, posting embarrassing posters on their different social media accounts and making even worse comments. It is more head-scratching when you realize that these posts probably went through a number of people before final approval was given. With no well-meaning women in the room, while decisions and contents of this nature are being made, IWD content will always fall short of the mark.

Companies need to ensure that their inclusivity goes beyond a few meagre tweets or all-day events on International Women’s Day. Just as the Gender Pay Gap bot on Twitter clearly showed, many companies put up a front but then have a gaping divide between the pay that their male and female employees receive. Pay women equally, give benefits to them and create safe and inclusionary environments. This way, we would make work environments directly uplifting rather than empty utterances and gestures at progress.

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