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Our beautiful, messy rainbow. #EmbraceEquity #IWD2023

By beautiful, messy rainbow Parmjeet Plummer @ParmPlummer

The 8th of March has become a day that holds significance and power for me in recent years. In the past, if I am honest, it has passed me by. Yet another tokenistic day to recognise something that, all things being considered, should not require it. Every day should be for men and women, all celebrated in their beautiful, messy rainbow glory. It's why I rail against black history or women's history month. It should be writ large everywhere, interspersing our curriculum with the rainbow diversity of the world, not just for a month.

However, I have reflected and adapted my position in recent years. My involvement with @WomenEd is one reason. The sheer joy and celebration we witness during our many #IWD events across our global network are reason enough. The energy of our volunteers in bringing events to their networks - and the hidden work that goes on behind the scenes to get these events off the ground is truly wonderful. An army of volunteers who are all committed to lifting and raising leaders and bringing inspiration, challenge and learning to others like them. This alone has made me marvel at the power of this day.

However, there is more to it.

Working in education there are few women who have not experienced the impact of increased misogyny and sexism in recent years, as figures who promote hatred and abuse of women (I will not name him) have proliferated using the internet to peddle their vile hate. In schools, where I work, it has been felt by female teachers and female students. The subtle and not so subtle undermining of those that call these attitudes out is seen in the toxic poison of 'banter', a word that excuses and condones abuse. The cascade of information to websites such as Everyone's Invited and Everyday Sexism, where women and girls, sheltered by the protective comfort of anonymity, share their stories of sexual abuse and rape, highlights the lasting and damaging effects of such toxicity. In such an environment, to even discuss International Women's Day was inflammatory and led to accusatory comments about how "we never recognise International Men's day".

And then in March 2021, Sarah Everard died and it was too much.

It felt that being a woman was actually dangerous, that women did not have the right to occupy a space that was more than they needed and if we did, if we got too confident, if we walked home thinking that we could be safe, or took that promotion thinking that we could cope, well,... that was too much. We had been firmly put in our places.

Some events trigger a reaction and since, I believe, things are shifting. Not only through the very public deep work that the police are doing through working to make sure that Sarah's death was not in vain, but also more widely.

Working in a school that has acknowledged the need for change, we have witnessed a huge shift.

And by embracing equity in our school, everyone is happier. Not just the female teachers (I work in a boys' school) but also the boys; the ones who were too fearful to speak up even though they often recognised that something was not right, the quiet gentle ones who never felt they belonged in an Alpha male environment. And all teachers have felt that they can breathe, that they can be themselves in this new inclusive culture. And having witnessed this change, it feels good to be part of it.

And so, ever since, I have celebrated International Women's Day with pride and joy because it does matter. The ability to do so is an expression of equity and through it, we do so much more than celebrate women.

By recognising this day, we embrace equity by celebrating the inclusion of everyone.

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Friday, 01 March 2024

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