#InspireInclusion Worldwide: Uniting Against Exclusion and Gender Disparity this International Women’s Day

For this year’s International Women’s Day, we take a trip around the world to the home countries of our current WiRe Fellows …

Women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community have been steadfastly fighting and advocating for gender equality for centuries. By way of illustration, the inaugural International Women’s Day took place on 19 March 1911. Since then, considerable progress has been made on gender equality, yet women (and the LGBTQIA+ community) continue to encounter significant challenges and exclusion. Therefore, this year’s International Women’s Day seeks to #InspireInclusion by commemorating past accomplishments, shedding light on persisting inequalities, and especially, inspiring others to include women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community more fully into society.

In the ongoing struggle against exclusion and gender disparity, let’s take a look at how people #InspireInclusion in Münster and in the home countries of our WiRe fellows all around the world on this year’s International Women’s Day.

Fighting Inequalities: The Start of International Women’s Day

The inception of International Women’s Day in 1911 was spearheaded by women and civil society organisations with the primary aim of securing women’s suffrage. Today, women’s suffrage is firmly established in most countries, and gender inequality has significantly diminished since the inaugural International Women’s Day. For instance, women now have access to higher education and they can pursue careers as university educators and professors (For more information about how women gained access to education at the University of Münster, take a look at our blog post here).

Nevertheless, disparities persist: women are disproportionately vulnerable to poverty, hunger, restricted educational opportunities compared to men, and complete 2.3 more hours per day of care work than men, to cite a few examples [1].

What is International Women’s Day Like in Münster?

In Münster, home to the University of Münster and the WiRe program, the city’s Office for Gender Equality and a plethora of women’s and LGBTQIA+ organizations have collaboratively launched a program for International Women’s Day, having commenced on 14 February 2024, and extending through the end of April. People are encouraged to participate in a dance protest, enroll in self-defense classes, engage in various workshops spanning from painting to personal finances to gender-inclusive language, and attend readings and talks on feminist topics. If you haven’t already, check out the programme here, it is unfortunately only available in German. While in two other German states, Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, International Women’s Day is a public holiday, in Münster people have to work and attend school.

Principal Square, Münster, Germany. © Hans-Peter Merten / Robert Harding World Imagery / Universal Images Group

… but what does International Women’s Day look like in our fellows’ home countries and cities? Let’s take a look…

… at what’s going on in Italy – Laura’s home country

Similar to the situation in Münster, the International Women's Day is also not a public holiday in Italy. However, Laura, our Fellow from Milan, Italy, shares that there are several events taking place to commemorate International Women’s Day in Milan this year. For instance, dedicated film projections and an exhibition to commemorate women’s contribution to the Italian resistance movement are being organised. Unfortunately, she won't be able to join, as she will be spending her time as part of her WiRe Research project on a research visit at the Donders Institute, Radboud University in the Netherlands. 

The International Women's Day has become increasingly important to her, as she developed an awareness of gender inequality, particularly when considering that women in under-resourced research areas experience even greater challenges. She will therefore take the opportunity to join the International Women's Day celebration organised locally by the interfaculty network Radboud Gender & Diversity Studies and the Radboud Women Professors Network to stand up for greater gender equality.

… at India – Paromita’s home country

Paromita, our Fellow from India who will start her WiRe Fellowship in April, gave us some cool insights into how the International Women's Day is celebrated back home. While it's not a public holiday, India has a special National Women's Day on February 13th, honoring Sarojini Naidu's impact on women's rights. For those who have not heard about Sarojini Naidu: She was an Indian political activist and poet who served as the first Governor of the United Provinces following India's gain of independence and had great impact on women nationwide. February 13th was chosen to honor her birthday, commemorating her remarkable contributions to women's rights and the independence movement in India.

In Paromita's city, Guwahati, Assam, they organize all sorts of events for the International Women's Day, especially at places like the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati. They bring in awesome speakers to talk about gender issues and honor women who've achieved big things. Plus, there are cultural performances that celebrate women's talents and achievements.

As for Paromita's plans, she's thinking of celebrating with her mom and sister before heading off to Münster for her on-site research. They're her role models, especially her mom who handled work and family like a champ. For her, Women's Day is a reminder to spread awareness about women's empowerment, especially among young girls and their families.
Rally participants march along a street celebrating International Women’s Day March 8, 2006 in downtown Chicago, Illinois. © Tim Boyle/Getty Images

… at what Celina reports from Argentina

According to our Fellow Celina, the International Women's Day is seen as a day of struggle in Argentina, rather than a day of celebration. That may be because on the International Women's Day the "Paro Internacional de Mujeres" (International Women's Strike, also known as "Movimiento 8M" or "8M") takes place, a big protest against gender disparity and gender-based violence in all its forms.

In her home city, Córdoba, the municipal and provincial governments typically declare March as Women's Month, extending the commemoration beyond just one day. They organize numerous public activities such as cultural exhibitions, marathons, awards, and competitions. Additionally, they provide free gynecological check-ups to all women in Cordoba. At her faculty, the staff usually hold various exhibitions to honor women in economics, accounting, and management.

As for her personal involvement, Celina usually shares posts on her social media accounts addressing gender inequality in her field of research, particularly highlighting the situations in Latin American countries. For her, the International Women's Day serves as a day to acknowledge the struggles of women in the past who fought for rights women enjoy today, and to stand in solidarity with women who continue to face oppression due to entrenched patriarchy in society.

… at the UK – home to our Fellow Joanna

In Birmingham, our Fellow Joanna's hometown (she will join the WiRe program in the second half of the year) and home to her alma mater, the University of Birmingham, preparations are underway for International Women's Day. The university is spearheading a comprehensive series of events throughout the week, addressing an array of topics from legal responses to gender inequality to the nuanced discussions surrounding menopause. Beyond the university walls, the city is abuzz with various initiatives, including panel discussions, art exhibitions, live musical performances, and even club nights, all dedicated to empowering and supporting women on a local and global scale. As Joanna reveals, the city is renown for its music scene, which is why she's filled with pride to see these events in aid of such an important cause. 

On a personal level, Joanna is deeply engaged in the activities surrounding International Women's Day. She is actively raising awareness on social media platforms and plans on participating in online workshops. This day holds significant personal importance to her, particularly given her professional background in STEM, where gender disparities in leadership roles persist. Joanna is committed to dismantling barriers hindering women's advancement, providing support during pivotal life stages, and advocating for institutional and financial backing. To put it in her words "IWD24 directly addresses these issues, and being more vocal can only help!".

Furthermore, Joanna is dedicated to supporting the Malala Fund, a charity with strong ties to Birmingham and founded by the esteemed Malala Yousafzai. The Malala Fund's mission to advocate for girls' education worldwide resonates deeply with Joanna, as it ensures that strides made in securing quality education are safeguarded, particularly in regions where access to education for girls remains precarious. 
Victoria Square, Birmingham, England. © Alexandre Rotenberg/robertharding

… at Finland – Tiia’s home country

In Finland, the International Women's Day is recognized, but it's not a big deal like a public holiday. Tiia's hometown of Jyväskylä, for example, doesn't go all out with celebrations apart from the occasional events or store discounts. This year, however, there's a concert organized by the Finnish music campus featuring works by female composers to commemorate the International Women's Day, which Tiia is greatly looking forward to.

For Tiia, the International Women's Day is extra special because it falls on the same day as the anniversary of her PhD defense and finishing her doctoral studies. Since 2020, she and her husband have made it a tradition to mark the occasion by treating themselves to breakfast at a restaurant. She's hoping her husband remembers to keep that tradition going this year - fingers crossed! 😊 

… and last but not least, at Scotland – Chiara’s home country!

In Scotland, the International Women's Day is acknowledged, although it's not designated as a public holiday, which Chiara thinks would be pretty fantastic.

In Glasgow, her hometown, there's usually a vibrant array of activities organized by universities and arts organizations. One highlight is the Glasgow Women's Library, where this year they're hosting an exhibition on suffragette medals running until May. Chiara plans to participate in any talks or events happening locally to commemorate International Women's Day. For her, this day carries personal significance, providing an opportunity to celebrate and honor the achievements and struggles of women worldwide.

Now, that you have gotten heaps of inspiration from our fellows, it is up to you to #InspireInclusion! Get active, inform about the persisting gender gap, and inspire others to #InspireInclusion!

To find out about how working conditions for women in science and research can further be improved, check out our blog post for the UN International Day of Girls and Women in Science!

[1] https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2023-09/progress-on-the-sustainable-development-goals-the-gender-snapshot-2023-en.pdf