March 8th marks International Women’s Day – a day that in Italy is often used as an opportunity for men to celebrate the women in their lives – a kind of appendix to St Valentine’s Day. For that reason, International Women’s Day can be seen in a cynical light as just another marketing exercise. However, the true meaning of International Women’s Day could not be further from this. We take a look a quick look at why you should celebrate International Women’s Day this 2017.
Prior to 1946, European countries celebrated Women’s Day on different days, but eventually a consensus was reached to celebrate on March 8th as it commemorated the Russian women’s ‘Bread and Peace’ strike in 1917 and before that, the ‘Women’s Garment Strike’ in 1857, which gave rise to the US’s first women’s union.
International Women’s Day was initially marked in Italy by the giving a sprig or a bouquet of mimosa to a special woman in your life. The mimosa plant was introduced from Australia in 1820, and because it is a relatively fast-growing shrub, it made for a gorgeous, fragrant and inexpensive symbol of love, resilience and growth in post-war Italy. These days, men and women still gift mimosa, but usually with some more extravagant flowers to really show their appreciation and love.
But March 8 is not just a day to celebrate the special women in your lives – wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters – but a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements women have spearheaded to enjoy the comforts they currently do. While it is true that women worldwide have made huge progress since then, there is still so much work to be done.
In 2016, Italy ranked 50 out 144 on the World Economic Forum for gender equality. While this may seem like progress from the country’s ranking in 2006 of 77 given the huge improvements that have occurred in women’s health, education and political empowerment, the country has actually made a significant step backwards in women’s economic participation and opportunity. Italy ranked 87 in the world for economic participation and opportunity in 2006, but in 2016 fell all the way down to 117. For wage equality for similar work, Italy ranks an abysmal 127 out of 144.*
If you are a woman in Italy, chances are you or a friend of yours is experiencing some form of discrimination in the workplace. Moreover it is almost certain they are getting paid less for the same work as their male counterparts.
So this March 8th, remember to send that special someone in your life a bouquet of mimosa to not only let them know you love them, but more importantly that you respect them and that you realize there is still so much work yet to do.
* Statistics are from the World Economic Forum