How should we celebrate international women’s day?

Violet columnist Ilona Harding-Roberts suggests some International Women’s Day reading

Ilona Harding-Roberts

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On the 28th February, 1909, the Socialist Party of America designated a whole day to celebrating the achievements of women, with a particular focus on those who had taken part in the protest against working conditions the year before.

Over the course of six decades, international women’s day was used to raise the profile of a range of demands, including better pay and conditions for female workers, votes for women, an end to workplace discrimination, and was even used as a part of a peace protest against World War I. This culminated in the United Nations’ celebration of international women’s day on the 8 March, 1975, and it has only gathered momentum since.

It’s not usually my style to open with a dry historical narrative (I usually try to avoid my degree at all costs) but I thought with something like international women’s day, understanding roots and origins was important.

It can be hard to focus on one specific way to celebrate the achievements of women while recognising how far we have to go, particularly when the scale is, rightly, international. So often, Western feminism takes on a predominantly insular and white-liberal character, which is why I think it is so important to have days that force us to expand our horizons.

“Western feminism often takes on a predominantly insular and white-liberal character, which is why it is important to have days that force us to expand our horizons”

How can we do this, though? Well, as great as supporting #internationalwomensday, Instagramming a selfie in solidarity, or sharing a Guardian video about global feminism is, it does sometimes feel as though ‘armchair activism’ doesn’t quite go far enough. At the same time, it’s pretty unlikely that any of us will be able to drop our lives and go flying off to Mexico to show our support.

Well, there is one way we can all contribute to international women’s day, while also literally sitting in our armchairs. You’ve guessed it: educate yourselves. There is a wealth of literature out there; if fiction’s not your thing, there are so many articles out there that provide an insight into cultures and places that seem so very different to ours, but are be fighting the same fight towards gender equality.

Below are some of my recommendations, but feel free to branch out (brave iDiscover for recreational reading, I dare you), and send me any suggestions you have too.

Why We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Honestly, I could sing the praises of this until I lose my voice. Not only is it just 49 pages long (which means yes, even Natscis can manage), but it is also adapted from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TedX talk, an extract of which features in Beyonce’s Flawless. Essentially, you can absorb her beautiful, funny and frank take on feminism through reading, watching or listening - I recommend all three. (She also has novels which I would highly recommend if you’re in a more fiction-y mood).

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Husband-and-wife duo Kristof and WuDunn bring a real sense of the potential for empowerment to their tale of oppressed women, which is no mean feat. In their study of women from around the world, they examine the disproportionate effect of poverty on women, the range of quality in medical treatments, and the realities of working in the sex industry. Yet this is by no means the only impression one gets of women who are non-Western; what shines through is the resilience and strength of women worldwide.

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I mean, this one almost goes without saying. While the book is both gripping and heart-wrenching, it is also one of the most accessible on the list – it is a autobiographical account of one girl striving for educational equality at all costs. But something else I didn’t expect to appreciate when I read this was the insight into the everyday life of a Pakistani schoolgirl. Despite its harrowing sections, the book cracks open many stereotypes of war-torn areas to reveal a beautiful country, a home, ravaged temporarily by political and religious dispute.

The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Truly the most beautiful writing I think I’ve ever experienced, and this book really is an experience. Time leaps around sporadically, relationships are complicated and taboo, and sensitive issues are handled in a delicate, fragile and terrifyingly real way. Set in Ayemenem in southern India, it is a tragedy that yet manages to be full of humour and love. It’s probably not one you could get through in a single sitting, not just for the length but also for the emotional toil, but definitely one you need to experience.


Mountain View

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Hopefully, I’ve got you as buzzed for Thursday as I am. What could be better than curling up with one of these amazing authors, and attempting to climb inside the world of a woman thousands of miles away from the Cambridge bubble?