For us, Women’s Day is about roll-up-the-sleeves, slow but steady efforts 365 days a year, not a one-off occasion for a concocted activity.
By Stephanie Willman Bordat and Saida Kouzzi,
Rabat – Happy Pancake Day! It is time to check out a couple of online videos for some recipes. Oh wait, no, that was this past Tuesday, March 5. Today is International Women’s Day.
It never fails. Every year around mid to late February, the calls and the e-mails start. “What are you doing for Women’s Day?” Sigh, bang head on table, repeat. As an NGO working for over 19 years to promote women’s rights in Morocco, Women’s Day is about roll-up-the-sleeves, slow but steady efforts 365 days a year, not a one-off occasion for a concocted activity.
The first Women’s Day was organized—not celebrated—in 1909, and emerged from the labor rights movement, with women mobilizing for a host of political and economic rights related to voting and the right to be elected to public office, as well as worker’s rights and employment discrimination issues.
Women across the world, from England to Egypt have been arrested at March 8 rallies, when the day was about protests, not promotions—of either the personal or the commercial kind.
On December 16, 1977, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution inviting member states to proclaim a “United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace” (emphasis added). To illustrate the rights-based context, on the same day the General Assembly also passed a resolution calling for a Draft Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Given the tendency of certain current political representatives in Morocco to denounce the CEDAW as neocolonialism from the “West,” it is worth recalling that the original request for a United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was co-sponsored by 22 mostly African, Latin American, and Asian countries—one of which was Morocco.
The original objectives of International Women’s Day were to highlight discrimination, inequality, and gender-based violence and organize concrete actions to address these violations of basic human rights. It is supposed to be a “lutte,” not a “fete.”
At one memorable event long ago, a women’s group organized a bake sale in which women customers paid 65 percent of the prices men paid, to highlight experientially the wage gap between men’s and women’s earnings.
In the decades since, Women’s Day has been transformed into a commercial opportunity to be exploited for sales. The day now focuses on women as gender-coded consumers and service providers, not on their fundamental rights as human beings.
To these companies with their special deals, fanfare, and decorated window displays, we say, if you are not respecting labor laws, paying a fair wage, or guaranteeing minimal hygiene and safety standards for your female workers, then you have no business “celebrating” Women’s Day. (We have a sneaking suspicion that your staff may actually be worked unpaid overtime today to enhance sales).
To add insult to injury, we have seen discussions circulating recently on social media where men complain that Women’s Day sales are a form of discrimination against them and a violation of their Article 19 constitutional rights.
Discrimination is not just any difference made between people based on categories such as sex. It is a “distinction, exclusion or restriction” which has “the purpose or effect of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal basis with others, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Studies have shown that women pay more for similar products than men—it is called the “pink tax.” In addition, since women earn less than men, they pay a higher percentage of their income than men for the same product. So in reality, it is the everyday prices that are discriminatory, not the one day sales.
These products are often highly overpriced the other 364 days a year, with their profits more often than not going into the pockets of male CEOs, since in Morocco, women represent seven percent of administrators of the largest public enterprises and only 11 percent of listed companies.
The CEOs’ nod to Women’s Day is to make less of a profit than usual off of women who earn less all year round. But please tell us again how you really wanted to buy that specific beauty cream today specifically and how the fact that you do not get the same discount as women for a 24 hour period is a violation of your fundamental human rights.
Unfortunately, it is not just private profit-making entities lowering the bar on International Women’s Day.
Over the years, we have seen March 8 transformed by those who purport to support women’s rights—associations, the press, academics, activists, funders, and government representatives both domestic and foreign—into occasions for self-promotion. They plan last minute activities with no strategic objective hastily put together and built more around selfie opportunities than around rights-based advocacy.
In Morocco, seven out of 10 women will experience some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime. On average, women in Morocco spend five hours per day on domestic work and caretaking for other household members, compared to 43 minutes for men.
Women make up only 17 percent of the 395-member House of Representatives and 12 percent of the 120-member House of Councilors. Moroccan women earn 29 percent less than men, and unemployment rates for women are double those for men.
Consumer products, social media posts, and shameless self-promotion are not going to help address these issues constructively or advance women’s rights. Women in Morocco and around the world face serious problems that need solving. For this, as the saying goes, we need a movement, not a moment.
In the meantime, rendez-vous on May 4 for Star Wars Day.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
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