The National:

ORIGINALLY conceived as a day of protest, International Women’s Day can now act for some as a legitimate excuse to ignore women’s rights for the other 364 days of the year.

Corporations have taken the opportunity for social media likes (we’re looking at you, Burger King), or to trot out the women who are normally kept behind the scenes and under the glass ceiling. And women are told to celebrate being a woman in a world which still tells us that women are second best.

The origins of International Women’s Day as a time to strike – to power-down industrial sewing machines, hang up dishcloths and leave off from remembering the family appointments for the day – still lives on for many. This year an open letter was circulated by activists Seyi Akiwowo and Gabby Edlin declaring that those who signed would no longer accept invitations for unpaid International Women’s Day appearances, highlighting the paradox that the work of celebrating women seems often to simply create more work.

And those same corporates who proudly change their avatar for the day and use all the right hashtags are, unsurprisingly, focusing more on words than deeds.

Journalist Sian Norris has been spending her International Women’s Day tweeting out the gender pay gaps of some of those companies, among them social media firms, arms companies, and high street fashion chains – all well known for their proactive support for women’s rights worldwide.

The facts speak for themselves. Women are still more likely to experience gender-based violence, we are more likely to take responsibility for childcare, we are more likely to be in precarious work. We are less likely to be in a top job, less likely to see ourselves on the TV news, and less likely to have our health concerns treated seriously. Covid-19 has, of course only increased the pressures on women in Scotland, and women of colour in particular who are more likely to be in high-risk jobs and unable to work from home.

So, for many who care about women’s equality all year round, International Women’s Day can sometimes feel more like a chore than anything else.

READ MORE: Why a campaign to pardon Scots women killed as witches is starkly relevant today

This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) debate in the Scottish Parliament saw some fantastic speeches by women (or “lady members” as Maurice Corry MSP dubbed them), raising issues of unpaid care, of online misogyny, of intersectional feminism, and of the overrepresentation of men in Scotland’s politics.

MSP Gail Ross gave a blistering speech – her last as a member of parliament – in which she called out the political culture which keeps women out, or drives them away, from power. The toxic working hours, seemingly impossible to do from home until Covid-19 sent the men away from their Holyrood offices as well, the constant scrutiny, and the casual sexism.

Gail Ross is not the only MSP to be stepping down at the end of this parliamentary term – she is joined by 13 other women, including three cabinet members.

While parties in Scotland spend today tweeting about their commitment to women’s equality, they must also commit to spend the days after IWD beginning the work to dismantle the barriers facing women in politics. To ask themselves why we are yet to see a woman of colour elected to the Scottish Parliament. Why nine in ten female MSPs say they have feared for their safety since being elected. Why Westminster, but not Holyrood, provides a creche for elected members.

So does all this mean we shouldn’t celebrate IWD? Or that we should roll our eyes at every well-meaning attempt to talk about issues of women’s equality? Of course not. But we should focus on the protest at the heart of International Women’s Day – leave the celebrations for when we’ve won.

Alys Mumford is chair of the Women 5050 campaign