Jump directly to the content
International Women’s Day

means sisters ruin it for themselves, says ex-PM speechwriter Clare Foges

International Women’s Day lumps all women under one umbrella, and she wants nothing to do with it

 

TODAY is International Women’s Day – an annual celebration for females. Sponsored by the UN, the theme of this year’s event is #PledgeFor Parity – a campaign calling for equality between men and women.

But one woman who has worked alongside the Prime Minister wants nothing to do with it.

Here, she explains her controversial view ...

 Not much in common ... international campaign aims to empower everyone from grans to City workers, prostitutes and child brides
2
Not much in common ... international campaign aims to empower everyone from grans to City workers, prostitutes and child brides

TRAFFIC police in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod are flagging down female drivers to present them with a single rose.

A Leeds college is offering free DIY lessons to ladies. In Toronto they will be encouraging women to learn to code.

Because today is International Women’s Day, the sisters’ annual jamboree.

The official website offers printable “selfie cards” that you can hold aloft, saying things like, “I pledge to call for gender balanced leadership” or, “I pledge to create inclusive, flexible cultures”.

Well, you can count this sister out — because IWD is helping to perpetuate the discrimination it rails against.

This is not to deride some of the campaigns fought by and for women.

It is sickening that two women die in England every week at the hands of a current or former partner, repugnant that millions of little girls are victims of genital mutilation. I take issue not with the various causes falling under the IWD umbrella but the umbrella itself.

The only common denominator is our common chromosome — and that is galling, reductive and regressive.

A net is thrown over half the world, falling over City professionals, the child brides of Pakistan, the rape victims of India, Hollywood actresses such as Jennifer Lawrence who are a few million dollars shy of equality with their male co-stars.

Try the male version and it becomes absurd. Would British working-class boys — who are struggling to make the same grades as the girls — be expected to feel kinship with child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo or fathers earning for their families down mines?

But when it comes to women, any old issue is stirred into the pot. See Oxfam’s IWD-special survey last week that women spend longer cleaning the loo each month than men.

This and other evidence is piled on the female side of some great gender ledger to make the argument for global inequality.

Then there is the painfully patronising “celebratory” aspect of IWD. Wheel out Marie Curie and Malala!

Get ready for politicians tweeting some lame nonsense about how “on this day we salute female pioneers and everyday heroes battling everyday sexism #strong #AmeliaEarhart”.

While writing David Cameron’s speeches, the one time I downed pen in protest was when I was asked to write the annual IWD message, in which the PM would praise the achievements of women — as though we were a sub-section of society, rather than 50 per cent of the population.

 Drives you mad ... Harriet Harman and that bus
2
Drives you mad ... Harriet Harman and that bus

This is the trouble with IWD, it ends up reducing women from half the population, as varied as the other half, to a niche interest group. It belittles us all.

Likewise, the problem with Harriet Harman’s election bus wasn’t that it was pink but that it existed to travel the country “speaking to women”, like a flotilla of anthropologists heading up the Amazon to make contact with some distant and distinct tribe.

IWD is unhelpful because by bunging us all into the same bracket, feminists do the job of chauvinists, defining us foremost by our sex.

Real feminism should argue there is no “we” that covers me, the thirty-something columnist, along with the gran in Huddersfield or US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton or the trafficked prostitute or the suburban housewife.

Real feminism would stop treating the whole of womankind as a special group and instead argue that we are individuals with our own merits.

Feminism is about being treated the same as men, not marking all three billion of us out with a special day to be treated as a group apart.