We don’t need discount vouchers for International Women’s Day. We need equal rights

<span>Photo: Manish Swarup/AP</span>” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/T9iREwdoOqfpXB5.B013Sw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/991b89c4a32cb60f6c238ca4b9be9151″ data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/T9iREwdoOqfpXB5.B013Sw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/991b89c4a32cb60f6c238ca4b9be9151″/></div>
</div><figcaption class=Photograph: Manish Swarup/AP

Brands wanting to “appreciate” women are offering discounts on clothes and makeup, and celebrities are urging women to use the day to pamper themselves. In India, International Women’s Day has been captured by commerce.

“No amount of discounts or offers are enough to appreciate women. However, here’s our little effort in making them feel ultra-special … up to 50% off all our products until Women’s Day.” read yet another of many such messages in my inbox last week.

There are some programs by government and NGOs, but they remain constrained within air-conditioned conference halls. The common woman—the one who jostles for her place at the tube station or bus stop, or remains cloistered within the home—has no access to these empowered gatherings. What is available to her are discount vouchers and social media shorts, stripping the day of all its celebration and purpose.

And what is Women’s Day when stripped of its political purpose? The stereotypical “ladies who lunch” having extra spas and shopping spree on their spouses’ credit cards. Or token celebrations with a few women who have been empowered.

Where are the all-India rallies where we could mobilize women to be inspired, interact with one another and demand, with one voice, our rights?

Once home from work, women must resume cooking like Nigella Lawson and caring like Florence Nightingale

More and more women in India are stepping out to work to boost the family’s income while fighting a capitalist-patriarchal system that wants them to prioritize their roles as homemakers and stay in low-paid, low-growth jobs. In the workplace, they face an expectation to “work like a man”, otherwise they are weak and unproductive. And then, when they come home, they must once again resume the domestic goddess role, cooking like Nigella Lawson, caring like Florence Nightingale.

Is it any wonder that Indian women end up doing almost 10 times more unpaid caregiving than Indian men? If International Women’s Day (IWD) is for taking stock of gender inequalities, let’s do that. If the government was interested in bringing change, it would announce women-friendly work policies. If businesses were serious, they would take a good look at how gender-responsive their organizations are, and make changes.

In Indian society, businesses have managed to dumb down an important day for putting out calls of action to demand political, economic and social equality for women.

IWD is seen as a marketing opportunity, with superficial, slogan-centric, hashtag-dependent campaigns targeted at profits rather than beginning a conversation about vicious inequalities that still persist in this country. The brands are commodifying feminism, but if only they showed true commitment to the day and pushed for gender equality, they would actually benefit.

It’s a no-brainer really: raising awareness about women’s education and employment and helping women access equal work opportunities would raise their status in society, giving them more decision-making and purchasing power.

Capitalism thinks patriarchy is its mate, but it would gain far more by aligning itself with women’s financial and intellectual empowerment. According to Nielsen, by 2028, women will own 75% of the discretionary spending, making them the world’s influencers. Companies, the report said, need to “rethink their approach to marketing, innovation and designing services for women. The data shows that just paying lip service is … encouraging disloyalty and causing fatigue.”

We don’t need vouchers or discounts – we need equal rights at home and at work

If you want to argue that the increased visibility of IWD through commercialization can raise awareness and spark conversations about gender inequality, unfortunately that is not the case in India, where commercialization means shoving the real issues under the carpet. Governments around the world should make it mandatory for businesses who want to use IWD to market their products to follow certain parameters that would also raise awareness about women’s rights.

This is urgent in India, where gender equality has made some progress but still has miles to go. As of 2020, the gender pay gap in India was estimated to be around 19%. In education, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap report, the literacy rate for adult females in India is 70.3%, compared to 84.7% for adult males.

Women make up just 23% of the total labor force in India. As of 2021, women hold only 22.5% of the seats in the lower house of India’s parliament, and 10.9% of the seats in the upper house.

Violence against women remains endemic in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, there were more than 400,000 cases of crimes against women reported in India in 2019, including rape, kidnapping and domestic violence.

Women’s Day is not just a slogan – it is a day when we must talk about these issues. It is time to remember the women who fought on our behalf for those rights we enjoy today. For them, for us and for our daughters, we need to take back Women’s Day from the clutches of advertising and marketing brains.

Related: ‘Retirement will come the day I’m buried’: Ivory Coast grandmothers are left holding the baby

We don’t need vouchers or discounts. We need equal rights at home and at work. We need to be heard. We need to be included in decision-making and policy formulation. But all of it must start from our homes.

Gender equality is not rocket science. Neither is it a spa voucher. It starts as a conversation at home and grows into a movement.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo


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