Last year, I highlighted the need to raise awareness for gender equality around the world, particularly when there were several stories in the media featuring harassment and pay inequality at that time.
Sadly, the stories keep coming, including those more recently of harassment on flights and public transport. Clearly, more needs to be done in terms of education of acceptable behaviours and for those who don’t get it, to be held accountable.
So, it is not surprising that the global campaign for women’s rights continues with the focal point of International Women’s Day on 8 March. This year the theme is to “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change”, putting innovation by women and girls, for women and girls, at the heart of efforts to achieve gender equality. The thinking behind this to ensure female needs are taken into consideration at the start of any technology or innovation creation.
I was recently reading an article online, posted by UN Women, about early innovations that have been credited with helping women’s rights. I was surprised to learn that one of these innovations was the bicycle!
The article said that prior to the bicycle, men would ride around on this wonderfully weird and impractical thing called the penny-farthing. However, when the bicycle was invented, it gave the adventurous women in 1880s, freedom of movement, challenged stereotypes around women’s physical strength and transformed dress codes.
This invention coincided with the first wave of feminism and whilst it wasn’t invented with women in mind, it did give them physical independence. In some regions of the world at the time, this meant women could move around freely without having to rely on chaperones, carriages or horseback.
Of course, the early adopters did not have an easy time of it; women were warned riding bicycles was “immoral” and doctors even went so far as to say that it could lead to a terrifying medical condition called bicycle face—a special risk to women’s appearance and complexion!
Thankfully, despite the scaremongering and attempts to keep women suppressed and off the bikes, they became very popular. This in turn resulted in Victorian women and activists alike calling for more appropriate clothing to ride bikes.
It’s amazing how something so seemingly simple can have such an impact and I guess that is behind the theme and challenge to think and create something that ultimately can have such a positive impact for women.
It may be a slow burn, but International Women’s Day is gaining in media coverage and political backing globally, with several Congresswomen wearing “suffragette white” to the recent State of the Union address, an organised march held in central London last Sunday and the federal state of Berlin celebrating a public holiday for International Women’s Day this year for the first time.
With greater awareness and activities designed for women and girls, hopefully one day we won’t need to have an International Women’s Day but instead celebrate people of all genders. I continue to live in hope.
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