International Women’s Day falls on March 8th every year and is a day that I always look forward to. The earliest observance of Women’s Day occurred in New York on the 28th of February 1909. It was organised by the Socialist Party of America to remember the strike of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in 1908. Nowadays it’s seen as a day to commend women globally for their achievements politically, socially as well as a way to respect and celebrate them. Since the UN started assigning themes to the day in 1996, it has focussed on everything from peace, human rights and gender equality to ending violence against women and access to STEM programmes.
From a personal perspective, I believe that International Women’s Day is an important one. I’m currently studying Neuroscience in UCD and as a woman in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) I believe that we need to be encouraging as many women as possible to take up studying in these areas. As I’ve written before, there’s large numbers of female students in STEM at an undergraduate level but this is not reflected further up the career ladder in the academic positions. This is not the first example of women being overlooked in the scientific community.
For example, Watson and Crick are always recognised for the discovery of DNA structure and rightly so. However, up until recently Rosalind Franklin, a female scientist who first studied DNA using X ray photographs which allowed us to visualise DNA for the first time and thus contributed hugely to this discovery was largely forgotten. She died four years before Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize in Physiology & Medicine and her work wasn’t acknowledged until much later. I believe Franklin’s gender contributed to her being overlooked and it’s one of the reasons why I believe we need to encourage more women to take up STEM subjects. I believe that International Women’s Day can help hugely with the imbalance we see in STEM subjects.
Another great aspect of this day is that it allows us to acknowledge and thank the women who came before us for what they’ve done to try to achieve equality. We can acknowledge Emmaline Pankhurst who fought tirelessly for women to be allowed to vote. We can thank Mary Robinson for becoming the first female President of Ireland and showing Irish people that a woman could be just as strong and intelligent leader as a man.
We can raise a glass to our own mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, cousins and friends who have taught us everything we know and challenge us to better ourselves on a consistent basis. I think in particular of my own mother who never stops challenging me and encourages me to keep learning and keep driving for what I want to do. She has shaped me and while I should be thanking her every day, International Women’s Day enables us to thank every single female role model we’ve had and assess the impact they’ve had on us. Reflection is a good thing and something that should be done more often. We learn a lot about ourselves and other people upon reflection and it’s something that International Women’s Day really encourages.
However you choose to celebrate International Women’s Day this year, I hope we all get a chance to reflect and focus on bettering the lives of everyone around us. I hope we can reflect on things like the 8th amendment, the pay gap between men and women, LGBTQ+ rights, direct provision and Traveller’s rights to name a few things. International Women’s Day is inclusive and is meant to celebrate women from every walk of life.
Happy International Women’s Day!