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It is International Women’s Day (IWD)! According to Twitter (admittedly not the best source), there are many questions being asked of it. Why do we need it? Women have it so much better now; shouldn’t this campaign be over? And, as Richard Herring takes a duty in answering, when is International Men’s Day? (It’s the 19th of November).

IWD is meant for the celebration of women’s achievements, to increase visibility and to call out inequality. The theme for this year is #ChooseToChallenge. This blog will challenge the idea that IWD is no longer needed and that gender inequality does not exist.

Throughout my time as a History student at the University of Chester, I have been inspired by female lecturers, female students and female historical figures. However, I have been continually disheartened by the continual omission of women from history. While there has been a feminist turn in history and the uncovering of hidden stories that have then been presented to the public (take Hidden Figures for example – a great film for IWD if you are looking for suggestions), more still needs to be done.

For example, my dissertation topic has been focused on Irish rebel music and a common theme I found was the absence of women. Songs such as ‘Men Behind the Wire’ and ‘Bold Fenian Men’ from their titles alone show the gendered history, but even the song ‘Grace’, written about Grace Gifford Plunkett, actually revolves around her husband, Joseph.

But, with the help of IWD, progress has been made. In 2016, it was the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland (the commemoration of Irish insurrection against British rule). On IWD, Twitter was utilised to uncover the stories of the women involved through hashtags such as ‘Eirebrushing’ and ‘womenof1916’. We can all use social media to make women in history visible and uncover the stories that have been censored throughout history.

It is not just through song that women have been omitted from in history. Take a walk through a city or a town and count how many statues and plaques you find that are women, and how many are men. There will be a clear disparity in the way women and men are presented. With the discussion in the last year (and much further beyond that) focusing on statues and their presence, it is clear that they have an impact on who feels welcome in a city, but it also represents who the nation feels is deserving to be remembered from history. In 2018, the BBC reported the imbalance in the ratio of women to men depicted in plaques and statues around Britain. Of the 828 statues that the Public Statues and Sculpture Association (PSSA) recorded, 174 were female. One in five. One in five! This is not the only issue – only 80 of these are named (compared to 422 named male statues), 66 were mythical or allegorical (compared to 16 males) and of these fictional statues, the males are mainly soldiers and the women are nude or nymphs. This gender imbalance can be further seen with the English Heritage Blue Plaques in 2018 – 127 out of 931 honoured women.

Thankfully, progress is being made here too. There are movements such as ‘Statues for Equality’ and ‘inVISIBLE woman’ that promote and rally for an equal ratio, and English Heritage has since requested for more female nominations. PSSA in 2021 are committing to a series of talks, Discovering Women Sculptures. With statues such as Millicent Fawcett, the first (and still only) statue of a woman in Parliament Square, being erected around the country – it suggests a progression. However, there are still many women’s stories that need to be uncovered and celebrated in the public. In the last year, there have been a plethora of movements for equality including Black Lives Matter and movements within the LGBTQ+ community to end the persecution of the LGBTQ+ community. This needs to also be located in the strive for equality on IWD too. A BBC report in 2020 found only three statues of named black women (the PSSA do not have any recorded). This needs to be questioned. We need to make sure that those figures hidden in history are uncovered too.

So, how can we strive for equality? To start off with, lets stick Netflix on. There are many TV shows and films that explore the role of women. As well as Hidden Figures mentioned above, here are a few more that I would recommend: Feminists: What Were They Thinking?, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson and What Happened, Miss Simone?.

Need time away from the computer screen? Why not pick up a book? Michelle Obama’s Becoming is incredible and Helen Lewis’ Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights is something everyone should read.

Or, if you are wanting more of a discussion, then the University of Chester is hosting a ‘Diversity Festival: Race for Equality’ this month. One event that I am very excited to be going to is ‘In conversation with Laura Bates – Men Who Hate Women’ where there will be an exploration of the ‘intersection between extreme misogyny and racism, white supremacy and other forms of extremism’.

Also, take a look at the ‘Women’s History Network’ (only £15 a year for students to become a member). They produce publications and conferences on women’s history.

The first step is to educate ourselves. Then, we can challenge.

Challenge inequality. Challenge gender bias. Challenge your own thoughts and challenge others. Choose to challenge today and in the future.

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