Has International Women’s Day lost its voice?

Has International Women’s Day lost its voice?

*This article contains mention of sexual assault

It may just be me, but I feel like IWD has lost a bit of its oomph in recent years. The energy, pride and feeling of united effort to drive progress feels… lacking. The bold support with slogan t-shirts and beautiful art hasn’t flooded my feed like it has in past years either.

I am not entirely surprised by this as I reflect on the rise of Andrew Tate on social media and research findings from King’s College London last month. Did you know they found that it was Gen Z boys and men who were most likely to think that feminism had done more harm than good – even more than baby boomers! And the ongoing ferocious debate of the day that divides online and media conversations like no other is linked to gender. I have no interest in starting a gender debate of my own, nor do I want to criticise Gen Z – I think they have enough to deal with growing up in this fully connected world. I can even go as far as to say I empathise with groups of young men that feel disempowered, left behind and lost. This needs to be addressed before a radicalised misogynistic view becomes the only attractive option to them.

However, I do believe that the continued fraction in ideology that the internet has fuelled has made online spaces scarier than ever.

More individuals are turning to online spaces to find connection and community, and at the same time, the safety of those online spaces is diminishing. We know the general trend on social media now is to retreat away from sharing public posts – it’s no wonder Meta has been investing so heavily in Facebook Messenger and Instagram DMs. The internet is the Wild Wild West where normal rules don’t apply.

And I think this has all had an influence on how bold (or not) communication around IWD is today. This is reflected in the rather vanilla heart hand gestures we’ve been instructed to do this year or the self-hug from last year under softer themes of Inspire Inclusion and Embrace Equity. These are all valid and excellent practices we should adopt in creating a more equitable world, but for women in many parts of the world, getting through the day without the threat of violence isn’t the norm. For many women, they are just trying to survive in the smallest space they are allowed to operate in.

So, for this review, I wanted to highlight a few old campaigns from different regions that remind us of the reality for many women still today. Some of these campaigns are over a decade old, some recent, but these issues are very much still rife in society, starting with my home country, South Africa.

Song for Change by Carling Black Label

It’s been an upwards battle to address gender-based violence in public discourse.

Charlize Theron’s ‘Real Men Don’t Rape’ ad even got banned in 1999 for ‘offending men’. Nine years later, Carling Black Label’s campaign ‘Song for Change’ brought home the simple truth that a combination of alcohol and sport on match days could sometimes, for women, be deadly.

Sound familiar?

Watch the impactful case film where women and girls changed the lyrics to the national football anthem at the country’s biggest Soweto Derby. The key message: #NoExcuse for gender-based violence.

The Autocomplete Truth by Ogilvy Dubai

UN Women’s ad campaign from 2013, The Autocomplete Truth, was created by Ogilvy Dubai for the MENA region but had global cut-through. 

It used real Google search data to show the most common autocomplete search suggestions when googling phrases around women. 

Examples of the most shocking: Women should… ‘stay at home’, ‘be slaves’, ‘stay in the kitchen’ and ‘shouldn’t speak in church’.

HandsAway by TBWA Paris

Finally, a more recent campaign for HandsAway by TBWA Paris aimed to make quieter suburban streets safer at night by increasing the brightness of OOH digital billboards by 20%. The campaign ran in 2021 when COVID socialising restrictions lifted. 

This in turn saw 26% of women and gender minorities giving up on going out alone for fear of assault in public places. Although a short-term solution, the campaign raised awareness of just how fearful many feel once the sun goes down.

Back in the UK in that very same year, the murder of Sarah Everard shocked the nation – and struck a chord with women everywhere.

Women whose fears around wearing noise-cancelling headphones in public, or taking a less populated route on a walk, or heading out for a run after the sun had set, felt suddenly (and brutally) justified.

Just because we are in 2024 does not mean we have solved the systemic issues affecting women’s safety, sexual and reproductive health and financial security. 

On some of these issues we’ve even gone backwards. It is, therefore, a shame for us to have this toned-down version of IWD when we still have so much more work to do!

So, if you’re in the camp of ‘we don’t need IWD anymore’, then consider yourself one of the lucky ones. 

A quick Google search should show you otherwise.

Lead image credit: Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai

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