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The Importance of International Women’s Day: ‘Gender equality worldwide is nowhere to be found’

On 8 March, International Women’s Day, equal opportunities for women worldwide, empowerment, and gender equality take centre stage. This day has been celebrated in the Netherlands since 1912, usually centring around a specific theme. This year’s theme: solidarity, the power for change.

Five FGGA women discuss the importance of this day, what International Women’s Day means for them and women in academia. The women participating in this story are: Marieke Liem (Professor Social Resilience and Security at ISGA), Daniela Vicherat Mattar (Associate Professor in Sociology at LUC), Elif Naz Kayran Meier (Researcher at the Institute for Public Administration), Nikki Ikani (Assistant Professor Intelligence & Security at ISGA), and Vanessa Newby (Assistant Professor at ISGA).

Marieke Liem

Why is it still necessary to organise an International Women’s Day in 2022?

Marieke Liem: ‘As long as gender inequality continues to exist in all layers of society, and women in 2022 are still not being given the same opportunities and options as men, it continues to be important to take a critical look at the roots of this inequality. International Women’s Day is a good time to do so.’

Daniela Vicherat Mattar: ‘It is 2022 and yet the consequences of Covid have been dramatic for women: more women left the labour market, during the restrictions women have taken the heavier toll of domestic work, while at the same time the levels of domestic violence increased. So yes, even if it is 2022, March 8 is important.’

Elif Naz Kayran Meier: ‘I can say without hesitation that International Women’s Day is still relevant. The necessity to actively advocate for women's equal rights continues to be an incomplete movement. In fact, today, perhaps it is becoming increasingly important to become more aware of the past and increasingly new challenges brought on by the equality efforts in the workplace for women. For instance, the work-from-home that became the norm during the Covid-19 restriction has made it evident that women are still under the double burden of home and work duties.’

Nikki Ikani: ‘First and foremost because of the fact that gender equality worldwide is still nowhere to be found. 1 in 3 women are faced with gender related violence. That is unacceptable. Women also continue to consistently be paid less than men for the same work. But in the Netherlands there also remains work to be done. The Netherlands ranks 31st worldwide when it comes to gender equality – with 13 EU countries ranking above it. But of course it is also a day to reflect positively on everything women have achieved the past century and to realise how important women are in our society.’

Vanessa Newby: ‘Until we have achieved global gender equality it is an essential reminder that this project is far from complete.’

Daniela Vicherat Mattar

What does this day means to you personally?

Daniela Vicherat Mattar: ‘It is a date I have joined many marches for women rights in the different countries I’ve lived. This year feels different because in my home country. Chile it is a year when, for the first time in the country’s history, Chilean’s are to have a cabinet that has more women than men (14 over 10), and there is a Constituent Assembly formed in a parity manner to re-write the country’s constitution. So this March 8 is for me not only about commemorating a struggle, but also celebrating achievements and the possibility of change.’

Nikki Ikani: ‘For me personally, apart from showing solidarity worldwide, it is also a day to reflect on everything my mother has achieved in her lifetime. Her powerful example has definitely inspired me. But also about the future I would like to see for my daughter. Gender equality is a crucial part of that.’

Vanessa Newby: ‘As President of Women in International Security Netherlands, IWD is a big day for us to ensure we spread awareness of the need for global gender equality in the Netherlands. As a woman and a feminist, this day reminds me that I have opportunities and freedoms that many women across the globe do not yet have.’ 

Elif Naz Kayran Meier

Let’s discuss women in academia. Are there enough women working in academia and do they have the same opportunities as men?

Elif Naz Kayran Meier: ‘As evidence shows, even though women are not too badly represented at early career stages, we see fewer and fewer women as we look at progressively towards the more senior and tenured positions at universities. The diagnosis of this so-called ‘disappearance’ of many talented women researchers within institutions should be a crucial first step in addressing the issue.’

Nikki Ikani: ‘Over the past years a lot of positive steps have been taken in this direction. I think that a continuous focus on the power of diversity on the work floor remains very important. Women need to know that the University will support them in finding the right balance between career, family, and self-care. I consider myself lucky to have experienced that support and I believe that is very important to make sure that women start working in academia, and continue to work there.’

Marieke Liem: ‘I believe that there are already quite a lot of women working in academia, including at Leiden University. Women are even a majority in especially the junior layers, such as PhD candidates and assistant professors. This difference disappears and shifts the higher you ascend the pyramid: there men are in the majority. This fact gives food for thought. In other words: we don’t insomuch need more women in academia – there are plenty of them – we need more equality in all layers of the academic world: junior AND senior.’

Vanessa Newby

What made you decide to pursue a career in academia?

Vanessa Newby: ‘I love talking to people about their experiences and then writing about that. I also enjoy pushing myself to expand the limits of my knowledge and understanding of a topic. As such academia was a natural choice for me.’

Daniela Vicherat Mattar: ‘I chose academia bit by bit, step by step. I did a PhD because I wanted to have time to think and do research, and later I have stayed in academic, because along with research, I enjoy teaching and helping students to give shape and take ownership of their own minds and thinking. For me thinking (about the world, but also at a meta level about how and why we think what we think) is a liberating exercise. So, I guess I have stayed in academia because, despite all its many problems, it opens for me the possibility of imagining and exercising some freedom.

Nikki Ikani

What are you most proud of in your career?

Nikki Ikani: ‘I’m very proud that my book was published by Manchester University Press last fall. I worked long and hard on it and spend a lot of time on empiric research. I’m very happy to have it take pride of place on my bookshelf.’

Vanessa Newby: ‘In the Netherlands I am very proud to have established WIIS Netherlands which is embedded in the Institute for Security and Global Affairs (ISGA). We promote awareness of gender issues in international security and present women’s perspectives on security issues.’

Elif Naz Kayran Meier: ‘Very recently, I was part of the coordinating team of a Horizon Europe grant which has been successful. It has been quite a long and complicated process to produce original and cutting-edge research ideas in addressing the challenges introduced to the workforce and social policy making due to the ongoing structural labour market changes such as digitalisation, automation, green transition, and immigration. I am, however, very happy with the research project I was able to help design. From my side, at this early stage of my career, I am very proud to be able to play a leading role in the scientific creation of new knowledge on these important topics.’

Marieke Liem: ‘On Monday 30 May I will present my inaugural lecture. Due to COVID is has been postponed a couple of times, which gave me the opportunity to really polish my presentation. I’m looking forward to sharing my plans for the future with a wider audience and, who knows, incidentally refute a number of myths on violence.’

Daniela Vicherat Mattar: ‘In general, I'm rather proud to have built a not so conventional academic career, and I'm proud to have done so while bringing up my 2 girls as single mum.’  

What needs to happen to make International Women’s day no longer necessary?

Marieke Liem: ‘When there is an International White Men’s Day.’

Nikki Ikani: ‘Obviously the holy grail is gender equality, freedom and opportunities for women worldwide. Yet I believe it will always be important to continue to celebrate what women have managed to achieve in the past, from which my generation is now reaping the benefits. I think it’s a good thing to reflect on that once a year.'

Daniela Vicherat Mattar: It may happen if there is a societal shift to revalue care work and the tasks related with the social reproduction of life. So far, gender equality, when achieved, is either done so at a high time cost for women, or it comes at the expense of other women, often racialized migrant women. International Women's Day will be no longer necessary when these inequalities cease to happen and there is a fair distribution of time and value assigned to domestic and care work.’ 

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