8 March and another International Women’s Day arrives, as it has on this day since 1985.
This year has seen 100-year celebrations of women’s suffrage, the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns about sexual harassment, and gender pay gap reporting as a legal requirement for larger companies.
Take a minute to look backwards at the history of women’s rights. Be inspired by the hopes of half the population. Seize the chance to renew the eternal call to arms of gender equality and women’s rights.
These are big issues, and it’s right that momentum gathers and propels us forward, however slowly, to a place where boys and girls will have the same chances.
But what can we do as individuals, and especially as parents, to push for faster progress? How do we talk about women’s rights with our children?
International Women’s Day and Mothers’s Day
Mothers’ Day in the UK falls on 11 March, uncomfortably close to Women’s Day as it highlights the conflict and compromise that being a mother often brings to the table.Women are still paid 16.8% less than men in the UK, and it may take another 200 years to close a gender pay gap that often appears as women take time out from the workplace to be the main carer for a family. Click To Tweet
And without trying to politicise Mothers’ Day, it is in the home and in the every day that we can influence and direct change for the future, as we are responsible for and can directly influence the next generation.
Every single one of us can accelerate change – but it takes men as well as women, boys as well as girls, to make the choices and the changes we need.
I am one of three sisters, and we were brought up to be independent, opinionated individuals. One of my mum’s sayings was to never be dependent on a man – learn to drive, wire a plug, manage your own money. This came from personal experience rather than bitterness, as a carer to her husband as well as a fantastic mum to us three girls.
In my husband’s family, he and his brother weren’t asked to do the chores, his sister helped with that. When we first lived together the chores got split down the middle, and we have shared responsibilities in the home as well as out of it ever since.
Make your own choices
I went to a very reputable Northern girls independent school, where we were encouraged to do science as well as arts and were pushed to make the very best of ourselves. That didn’t stop the careers adviser assuming I would go to Manchester University rather than Oxford – to be nearer to my widowed mum. Mum wouldn’t stand for that and neither would I, and Oxford it was.
Being a mum myself has brought its own compromises. There is a balance for all parents that says whether or how much you work outside the home. It’s not our place to judge what other people decide, what works for us will work for our families and it is those choices that will help form your children’s beliefs and opinions.
Women’s rights are human rightsInternational Women’s day is a chance to make the big gesture, to collectively celebrate achievements and share hope. But it is in the way that we live in the every day that will create the changes we want to see. Click To Tweet
Lucky enough to have a talented daughter and an amazing son, I want the same chances at life for them both. I want them to be able to challenge stereotypes, to question society’s assumptions, and to be happy in the choices they make.
We have baked and cooked all together, shown them how to clean football boots, painted nails and tried on new clothes with them both. I have asked them both to tidy up, wash up, put things away. They have each worn pink, blue, a rainbow of colours and styles, dresses and trousers and fancy dress as they have wanted.
My son keeps his hair long, is happy that he can pass for a girl when it suits him, and has fended off comments and attitudes and opinions of others, showing resilience and determination to be his own person as he grows.
My daughter has great leadership qualities, can plan and organise and direct people in a collaborative and constructive way. Has she been called bossy as a girl showing these qualities? If she has I am pretty sure she would have put who dared to say that firmly in their place as she continues to follow her own clear path.
I have been known to jump on a soapbox about making sure you vote because you can, I do comment on the news when I find it offers a biased view, but I try not to get too preachy about women’s rights as I don’t want to bore the children into my viewpoint. Instead I want to open up discussions and get them to think about the world around us and why it is the way it is.
How to talk about women’s rights with your children
It doesn’t matter what age your children are, you can still engage with them and explore the topic of women’s rights and feminism.
Children learn by example, so show them the way to behave and the way you believe we will collectively achieve the changes you want to see.
- Find everyday opportunities to talk about inequality.
- Have age-appropriate conversations about real-life examples and situations.
- Let them read books, play with toys and wear clothes they choose, without judgement.
- Keep it fun and light-hearted, even when there is a serious intent.
- Teach them to interpret rather than accept the media, and to never be afraid to ask questions.
Children are born with open minds – it is our duty as parents to keep them open. The ground has shifted, and there is no going back, so we need to take responsibility for shaping that future, shaping the minds of our sons and our daughters and leaving them open to the progress of women’s rights.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #Pressforprogress. Hold on to the achievement and excitement of today into next week and next month. Keep pressing each and every day, and that progress will be made.