Should we be celebrating, or commiserating a day that is dedicated specifically to pointing out global gender inequalities? For me, it’s the latter.
International Women’s Day was established in 1911, in effort to celebrate women’s achievements and lobby for gender equality. However, more than 100 years on we are still fighting the exact same fight.
Looking at women’s rugby specifically, we still have so much ground to cover in advancing the game that we all know and love.
Just to be clear, before anyone pulls me up on it because I can see it coming a mile off, I do understand how far the women’s game has come in recent years. I am not averse to celebrating victories as and when we get them, but what I won’t do, as Alice Soper famously says below, is fall into the trap of being grateful for basic things that are so rightly deserved.
In my opinion, we don’t need one day dedicated to fighting inequality in women’s sport, we need 365. These discussions should be taking place every single day of the year. We should be asking the difficult questions as opposed to celebrating the minor achievements.
We should be questioning why women get overlooked when it comes to facilities at grassroots clubs? Why do we still have international players without full time contracts? Why is the media coverage of women’s rugby still not making it into mainstream news? Why are women who play at the elite level expected to wear men’s kit?
Instead of the token gestures which will no doubt be filling up our social media feeds today, how about we sit down and tackle the big issues in women’s rugby that need addressing.
Let’s start with coverage of the women’s game.
Just a few days ago research by Girls Rugby Club revealed that 47% of respondents felt that their rugby club did not feature men and women equally on their joint social media accounts, which is a real representation issue. I would almost put money on the fact that these same accounts, who do not give a fair look to their women’s sides, will be pushing out content on International Women’s Day.
This is virtue signalling at its highest point, and it isn’t limited to grassroots clubs either. Leading women’s sport activist Sue Anstiss MBE pointed out that in the run up to International Women’s Day, the BBC Sport home page was suspiciously filled with women’s sports stories. The optimist in me wants to think this was due to natural growth of women’s sport, but a jump that big in terms of coverage doesn’t happen overnight for no reason.
Some will argue that we still need International Women’s Day to highlight inequalities and push forward and make real change, to this I would encourage individuals to open their eyes. People in this industry are pushing for change every single day, some have dedicated their whole careers to breaking down barriers in women’s sport, do you seriously think they only do this on one day of the year?
For example, take Victoria Rush, a producer and director of No Woman No Try, an Amazon Prime documentary dedicated to telling the story of women’s rugby. Do you think she shouts about women’s rugby on the 8th of March only? No, she doesn’t. She pushes the agenda forward at any and every opportunity she has, which is exactly how it should be.
We shouldn’t be praising individuals, teams, or organisations for pushing equality on one day of the year, we should be questioning why they aren’t talking about it for the remaining 364 days.
Take pride month, for example. Often companies will cover their logos in the LGBTQ+ colours in attempt to show support for the community, otherwise known as pride washing. In most cases, the support is hollow, and doesn’t mean anything – and I would argue that International Women’s Day is heading in the same direction.
Yet again, women are wheeled out and pushed onto social media posts in effort for organisations to show that they are ‘female friendly’ – what part of this should we be proud of, exactly? Women shouldn’t be an afterthought, we make up just over half of the population, we shouldn’t be in the minority yet somehow, when it comes to women’s rugby, we almost always are.
Women’s rugby is at a pivotal time in its growth, the Women’s Six Nation’s now has its very first title sponsorship, and the World Cup is on the horizon. The narrative around women’s sport needs to change direction, we should no longer be thankful for the crumbs from the dinner table, we need to step away from the norm and create our own 3 course meal.
Don’t get me wrong, I know long lasting change will take time, but this has to start with the way we speak about our sport. We all have a responsibility for the future of the game and it’s about time we started to take that seriously.
So, on International Women’s Day I would like to challenge you to start asking the bigger picture questions, because, as someone very wise once said to me:
“Growth only comes once you step outside your comfort zone”