Student Life

Creating together

Student Life

International Women’s Day 2021 – challenge

International Women’s Day 2021 – on Monday 08 March – is a worldwide celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. It represents a call to action for accelerating women’s equality and striving for continual progress towards a world where gender equality is the norm.


The theme of IWD this year is #ChooseToChallenge and focusses on collectively calling out gender bias/inequality and taking responsibility for our own thoughts/actions every day to actively help create a more gender balanced world.


People of every gender identification can benefit from the reduction of sexism in society – NOT just women or girls, so this International Women’s Day (and every other day), I CHALLENGE you to speak up and do your part to combat discrimination/bias wherever possible. How you choose to challenge the issue of inequality will be completely individual and unique… but here are a few things to consider when taking part in this important initiative:


Calling out implicit and explicit discrimination

Openly speaking up for yourself and others is the most direct way to challenge obvious and more subtle gender inequality wherever you witness/experience it. Remember to be respectful and calm, but assertive when you’re confronting someone who may be talking or acting in a problematic/sexist way, explaining that your intention is to question the gender-based assumptions they’ve made or identify the reason for their unhelpful behaviours. Understand that their actions/words may be unintentionally problematic and seek support from a trusted peer if you don’t feel comfortable speaking up alone. In a workplace or institutional setting, it may be helpful to use more structured complaint procedures, so that you can formally call out episodes of discrimination with the backup of your organisation.


Honest conversations and sharing experiences

Change can only happen if we open up casual conversations within our ‘sphere of influence’ amongst the people closest to us. Talk honestly to friends, family members, colleagues and classmates about the issue of gender bias or challenge the stereotypes that exist within your social circle. For example, you could share stories of when you’ve noticed discrimination in your community when at the dinner table or let your besties know that they’re welcome to come to you for support if they feel they’re being subject to gender-based prejudice.

The trick is to eliminate any judgement and remove the awkwardness people feel around the subject by normalising helpful discussions and approaching them in a candid, constructive way. After all, sometimes having a brief chat with a colleague can be less overwhelming than a serious meeting with the HR manager and is often the first step to making a change.


Allies and supporters in important spaces

Mentors, managers and people in leadership positions can be incredibly helpful in challenging biases and improving the structures/systems that disadvantage women in society. By helping influential individuals, for example your boss or senior lecturer, understand why gender equality is so important – perhaps by sharing some of the IWD resources with them – you could encourage them to also take action that makes a long-term difference to the experiences of women in your workplace/institution.

Remember, both men and women are responsible for change and stand to benefit from a more gender-neutral world, so don’t be afraid to seek support from male figures you trust. Ask them to become an ally and use their position to help create sustained change to gender relations. The more that people in higher positions are aware of, speak up about and join the challenge the better, as it’s often those authority figures that have the ability to shift perspectives and influence large groups.


Learning to recognise unconscious bias

It’s difficult to accept/acknowledge, but we all hold a degree of bias and unhelpful beliefs about gender. Sometimes they’re so ingrained or unconscious they’re hard to identify, but it’s crucial to educate yourself on where you may hold stereotypes. Be honest with yourself, reflect on your day-to-day thoughts, beliefs and expectations, then recognise where there may be harmful or unhelpful ones. You can also previous times where you may have been unknowingly biased – for example, when I was younger, I would automatically assume that girls at school who played football or loved science wouldn’t have much in common with me and label them as ‘tomboys’ without truly getting to know them.

Unpicking your own stereotypes is a challenging process because changing an internal dialogue (that you’ve likely had for most of your life) takes time and effort, but it’s 100% worth doing. If you’re struggling to see where you may be holding some beliefs or internal ideals that go against gender equality, perhaps you could ask others to help point them out or read/listen to the work of female activists to spark your recognition. Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given is a personal favourite of mine.


Listening out for negative/discriminatory narratives

Whether online, in the gym, at school or on public transport, there’s ongoing discriminatory talk/behaviours to pick up on in your everyday life. They may not be immediately obvious – It’s the throwaway comments and subtle acts of inequality that are most often ignored – yet when experienced repeatedly, can cause genuine harm to the people they’re directed at. The way to challenge this is to teach yourself which words/language and gestures to be wary of, so whenever you spot them or feel they’re aimed at you, there’s less chance of ‘letting it slide’. When you do come across a sexist narrative or notion, simply diffuse and disengage it by calling it out in the ways mentioned above. That may even mean replying to a nasty tweet or asking someone to change the subject of your conversation – the key is to ensure it doesn’t go unnoticed or unaddressed.



Engaging the next generation of leaders

Just as people of all gender identities need to challenge inequalities, so do all ages. If you have the chance, try to speak to young girls and boys about why equality is necessary, build their enthusiasm for overcoming sexism in society and share your experiences of bias in an educational and appropriate way.

An extension of this is teaching gender-neutral language and ideas in schools, raising children with the confidence to stand up against discrimination and actively contradicting stereotypes about how boys and girls “should” be when they’re growing up. Something as simple as playing with a barbie doll or choosing to study a subject at school can be loaded with gendered expectations/assumptions, but by engaging the minds of little ones, who will challenge inequality in the future, we can start to remove them to build a more gender-neutral environment for the next generation.


Noticing intersectionality and double discrimination

As you stand up against gender bias, it’s essential to also consider the interrelated issues of race, sexuality, religion and other forms of social inequality. For example, make an effort to notice how individuals of different skin colours, cultural backgrounds and classes experience discrimination to varying degrees and understand how your personal privileges may affect your internal biases or external actions.

Where possible, try to amplify the voices of women in marginalised communities who are subject to ‘double discrimination’ or have fewer opportunities/resources to challenge the gender-based inequality they face and be respectful of how specific sociocultural characteristics impact the way people may choose to challenge sexism. It’s a great idea to involve a diverse group of individuals in conversations about gender and learn from those who come from a different background to yourself, so you get a broader perspective of the issue.


Getting deeper than surface-level policies/actions

 For true progress against gender inequality to be made, repeated action is needed. Many organisations, institutions and groups have tokenistic rules or events related to sexism/bias and agree to deal with obvious, surface-level episodes of discrimination, but unfortunately a one-time workshop or single intervention won’t create long-term change. This International Women’s Day, you can ensure your challenges aren’t superficial or short-lived by adopting the #ChooseToChallenge attitude and values ALL the time.

Use guidelines from organisations like ‘Lean In’ to pinpoint what actions make the most difference and monitor how any changes in your personal beliefs/behaviour and organisation(s) are sustained. That way, the campaign will have a lasting impact, with challenges, improvements and policies that combat bias in meaningful ways.


Elevate and encourage awareness of gender bias

There are SO many ways to elevate discussions about gender and spread the International Women’s Day campaign on both a small and large scale. From little acts like speaking up against sexist comments in social settings to big changes like making the topic of gender inequality compulsory in the school curriculum – every effort to bring attention to the issue of sexism is valid and valuable. One of the easiest ways to bring the gender conversation to the forefront is to consume and share podcasts, quotes, music etc. that highlight bias or engage with the campaigns of charities/initiatives that are built to empower women or combat discrimination (eg. ThisGirlCan or Catalyst).

SO… what difference are you going to make this International Women’s Day and beyond? How will you accept the CHALLENGE, stand up to the gender biases, defy stereotypes and commit to learning more about gender inequality? A great first step to joining the growing number of #ChooseToChallenge supporters is to register for an IWD account and join the picture challenge by posting a photo of yourself on social media holding your hand up, using the hashtag #IWD2021 to represent your involvement.

I hope this post has inspired you to get behind the fight for gender equality and sparked some thoughts about how you can make a difference, big or small, to the way women are represented and perceived in society. Feel free to leave a comment on this post to share your personal experiences of gender bias or contribute more ideas of how to rise to the challenge below!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *