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8 March 2022

Why we should still celebrate International Women’s Day, despite what’s happening in Ukraine

This year, of all years, we need to rally, rejoice, replenish, rabble-rouse and resist.

By Deborah Frances-White

It’s International Women’s Day Week (IWD). Yes – we used to get a day but now it’s more like a week. And what a hectic week it is. I don’t know how men cope with having all the other weeks. I assume they’re at brunches explaining what it’s like to be a man to other men every other Thursday. That said, I genuinely do love the fun, furious and festive feel of a great IWD season. It’s feels like a kind of meditative self-care to have the focus on ourselves, half of the human race.

This year, though, I’ve had a few emails from events I’m attending suggesting that while we can congregate, it should be a little subdued and not so much a celebration. I get where they’re coming from: how can we be having a self-congratulatory party when the four horsemen of the apocalypse are circling? (Perhaps we should first discuss why they’re all horsemen?! Excuse me, but why can’t even one woman ride a horse portending the end of the world? Where’s our doomsday representation?!)

Although I understand the impetus to tone our celebrations down while there’s horrific warfare, an endless pandemic and a climate crisis raging, I think we need to give ourselves permission to celebrate this International Women’s Day. More than that, I think we have an obligation to celebrate. We absolutely must refuel our tanks and energise each other, because our efforts are going to be needed like never before – and we can’t run on empty.

In moments like this, I reflect on the words of Idil Esser, the former director of Amnesty International Turkey, who was imprisoned for more than three months by the Turkish government for her activism with regards to human rights. She once told me that to really create change we need three things: resistance, resilience and joy. Activists and concerned citizens are rightly angry at the state of the world – but while rage is a great motivator, it can’t be the only tool in our box. We mustn’t forget joy because it draws more people to our cause and keeps us all turning up. Joy is the key to resilience.

We can’t always control the outcome of our efforts, so it’s easy to get discouraged and think we’ll never win. But what if, instead, we started to see every moment as its own outcome? Offering someone that is displaced or hurt resources is important; even giving them the respect of being seen and treated with dignity is worthwhile in itself. Efforts are not just valuable in so far as they succeed in changing that person’s material circumstances; they allow those who are fighting to keep going with defiance, pride and optimism.

Gloria Steinem once said to a 2017 graduating class, “if you want to have fun and laughter and sex and poetry and music at the end of the revolution, you have to have fun and laughter and sex and poetry and music on the way.”

Maybe no one understands that better than the Ukrainians, who every year throw a public holiday on IWD. This year, of all years, don’t hold back. Rally. Rejoice. Replenish. Rabble-rouse. And resist.

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[See also: One year on from the murder of Sarah Everard, it’s time for men to stand up]

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