10 March 2021

What Does #ChooseToChallenge Mean to You?

Since the first official celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD) in 1996, this movement has always been celebrating & pushing for one thing — Progress

From celebrating the past & planning for the future (throwback to the first theme adopted), right up to today’s IWD theme, #ChooseToChallenge, we’re constantly pushing for progress especially when concerning equality of women in various fields and aspects. While we take this time to celebrate the different women who have contributed to making a difference and impacting our society, it’s only proper to question, how far have we truly progressed?

Before we get to that, why was there even a need to celebrate this in the first place? 

While the seeds were planted in the early 1900s when the working women of New York took to the streets demanding equal pay and better working environments, the day itself became official when Clara Zetkins, a leader from the Women’s Office for Germany’s Social Democratic Party, proposed for an international celebration to press for their demands in 1910.

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Fast forward 111 years later, International Women’s Day is no longer only about pressing for demands but also celebrating the different women who have made progress in our society — from political leaders, like Kamala Harris becoming the first woman Vice President of America, to successful women leaders in the workplace, like Grab’s Malaysian co-founder, Tan Hooi Ling, and even our very first female Olympic silver medalist, Pandelela Rinong. Progress is also evident in certain sectors of entertainment. Take Disney for example. 

Disney princesses are no longer waiting to be saved by a prince through a prince’s true love’s kiss or to be whisked away to a happy ending. Rather, it’s shifting to show how these girls can set their own paths and resolve their own stories independently (cue the heroes of Frozen, Moana, and even the latest Raya and The Last Dragon.)  

Needless to say, women have undoubtedly progressed much further than what started off nearly a century ago — something we should all continue to speak about, celebrate, and continue doing. 

But as we celebrate the visible progress and achievements of various women, one wonders, does our progress for the everyday society, of the unseen and unheard, deem the same level of celebration?

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Farah Ann, Malaysia’s national gymnast, who won Gold at the 2015 SEA Games, was greeted with a mix of congratulations and unsolicited remarks about her gymnastics attire being too revealing. Girls are still being forced into child marriage and it’s still legal in many parts of the world — Malaysia included. Plus, with the COVID-19 pandemic and moving into a stay-at-home life, gender stereotypes are reinforced and many women are expected to take up more domestic chores while maintaining their jobs

Not forgetting, when our government officials told women to speak in a demure Doraemon-like way and were ‘advised’ to not nag at their husbands, refrain from sarcasm, and dress well, to maintain a positive environment at home which will help households during the country’s lockdown. Yet, they failed to adequately address the rise of women being victims of domestic violence

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

Despite the progress throughout the years and the celebrations that we’ve made, remarks like these simply show the reality of the stage we’re in — emphasising how gender is a pre-written book and we’re bound by the constraints set on us. Evidently, the fact remains that we’re still far away from achieving equality due to the lack of effective action to boost women’s representation as well as acknowledging and prioritising ALL women and girls, not just those we make headlines.

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In fact, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, gender parity, which goes beyond the presence of women in a particular place but rather the conditions of them there (exactly what was fought for a century ago for women in the workplace), will not be attained for another 100 years!

With all the reports on lack of progress and the purpose of what IWD was intended for, the future may seem bleak overall. But we must remember that it’s not just about the destination, rather the journey towards it

This year’s IWD theme calls us to #ChooseToChallenge, so maybe it’s time we sit and think of what’s really important to challenge — whether it’s what we know, what is seen and unseen, and what progress looks like not only for us but every level of society. 

Gender is a pre-written book but it’s time we took the pen to write out the chapters we want to see. It’s time we go beyond being inspired by inspirational women in our society. Let’s be the ones who challenge the world to be alert, to be limitless, to have the courage to go beyond what is set for us, not just during IWD but every day of our lives.

This #IWD, how will you #ChooseToChallenge?

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Watch this video on how we #ChooseToChallenge the beliefs set on women so every woman can start viewing themselves as limitless.

Ailyn Low