Women’s History Month is a time to recognize the achievements of women who have broken barriers, fought for equity, and paved the way for future generations. It's also a time to reflect on the work that still needs to be done to achieve gender equity.
It is celebrated during March in the United States, corresponding with International Women's Day on March 8. In Canada, it is celebrated in October to coincide with the celebration of the anniversary of Edwards v. Canada (the Persons Case) on October 18, which established the right of women to be appointed to the Senate.
As we celebrate, reflect, and learn, it’s important we do so in a way that doesn’t exacerbate inequities. Here are some things to remember during Women's History Month (and all months).
Too often, women and racialized people are the ones to engage in unpaid and unacknowledged labour; furthering their marginalization. We witness this in how organizations approach compensating presenters (usually part of a group experiencing marginalization) during Women’s History Month. For example, they may believe that exposure is compensation enough. But, honestly, exposure doesn’t pay the bills and does nothing to shrink the wealth gap.
Indeed, presenters deserve payment for their time, expertise, abilities, and the value they bring to events. Here are some ways to equitably compensate presenters:
Women don’t need to be “fixed.” Well-intentioned organizations often develop gender-related initiatives aimed at supporting women. But, too often, these initiatives give the sense that women need to be “fixed” or “empowered.” People often tell women they need to stop marginalizing themselves, negotiate better, speak up, support each other, strike a balance between work and home. Instead, women require their organizations to examine their policies, procedures, and cultures to identify inequalities and deeply embedded biases to remove barriers for women.
Women come from different backgrounds and have different experiences based on their race, culture, and abilities. They are not all the same. Achieving gender balance relating to wealth will be different for women in C-Suite positions than those transitioning out of poverty. For example, achieving gender balance in boardrooms may be more relevant for white, cisgender women than women who have been denied entering such spaces. If you’re an organization and you’re keen to find ways to better support women, remember that you cannot design a single program and expect it to fulfill the needs of all women.
Engage with Shifting Beyond a Gender-Only Approach to learn more.
More often than not, we make comments about women’s appearances. Even women love to compliment other women. While there is nothing wrong with this, we also know that women offer so much more than their appearance, and so we encourage everyone to share compliments that shift beyond a woman’s appearance.
When we refer to “women” as “female,” we reduce them to their reproduction abilities. “Female" is a scientific term that refers to the sex of a species capable of reproducing. While many women can reproduce, these abilities also change with age, health, and other variables. Further, not all women are biologically female (i.e. some members of the trans* community or gender-nonconforming people, as examples). Nevertheless, women offer so much more to the world, so let’s shift away from referring to women as just “females.”
The common practice to refer to groups of people as “guys” is usually well-intentioned and often harmless. Still, when there are women-identified people in the group, it isn’t accurate. It is also best not to assume people’s gender identity by simply looking at them. So, instead of language like “hey, guys,” for groups of people, consider the use of folks, people, everyone, all, y'all, all y’all, or something else that resonates with you. While we’re on the topic, there is sometimes confusion with the difference between when to use “women” versus “girls.” To clarify, women who are 18 years of age and over are “women,” not “girls.” Finally, some women don’t like to be referred to as “ladies” because the word is sometimes associated with "proper" (i.e., subservient) behaviour. As we noted at the beginning of this blog, not all women are the same. So when in doubt, ask how they prefer to be referred to as! Also, check out the Unbias Button for support.
This blog is not meant to be a static guide, but rather a compilation and reflection of our learnings to date. Everything changes - from technologies and innovations to social norms, cultures, languages, and more. We’ll continue to update this blog with your feedback; email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions.
This resource was written collaboratively by members of the Feminuity team.
If you wish to reference this work, please use the following citation:
Feminuity. (2023). "Celebrating Women’s History Month Equitably"