International Womens Day Hijacked by Big Business

Claire Fauset, 28th February 2006ce

Being the right on radical woman that I am, international women's day seemed like the perfect opportunity to celebrate womanhood in all its complex beauty with a poetry performance. Little did I know that big business was out to co- opt my event, and others like it around the world, for some cynical self promotion.

In promoting our poetry event we went looking for a website listing other international women's day events around the world, and happened upon, which allows event organisers to add their listings. We duly filled in the details of our poetry night before realising that the site, run by a 'Gender Capital Management' company called Aurora, was 'proudly' sponsored by HSBC, 'the world's local bank'.

International women's day, celebrated on 8th March, dates back to the turn of the 20th century. Women's day was first celebrated in the USA in 1908 with large demonstrations for the vote. In 1910 an international conference of women in Copenhagen agreed to commemorate the day. Demonstrations marking international women's day in Russia were the first stage of the Russian Revolution of 1917. In 1975, the event was recognised by the United Nations.

Over the years it has been used to highlight women's demands for full economic, social and political rights and an end to war and militarism. The ethos of the day is clearly at odds with that of a company such as HSBC, born out of colonialism and that stands accused of profiteering from wars in Iraq, funding rainforest destruction, paying poverty wages and contributing to the economic collapse of Argentina.

International women's day is not a centrally organised event, and no-one can lay claim to organising it or sponsoring it. Aurora cleverly avoid claiming to be the organisers of the day, though it is implied throughout the website and the site is clearly attempting to be the online hub. They have dubbed their event at the Savoy in London the 'flagship' event in the UK and in their press pack they include what they claim is 'the official IWD 2006 global press release' and include logos to download and a template press release for organisations putting on events, which makes great play of Aurora and HSBC's role.

Aurora assists its corporate clients, including Wal-Mart, Novartis, Microsoft, HSBC, PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM, in targeting women in their recruitment campaigns.

Their press statement on quotes their CEO in saying 'Women’s equality has progressed enormously over the past century however some companies and countries still treat their women unfairly... Many corporations still need to become more "gender fair" and increase women’s equal access to leadership positions'.

She goes on to cite Aurora's 'where women want to work' website as the place where women can 'do their homework on potential employers'. All independent information of course!

IWD mustn't be reduced to a call for equal rights for women to earn fat cat pay. If you have a passion for oppression then by all means aspire to breaking the glass ceiling and entering the boardrooms, but you won't find equality there. If your passion is for equality, then the focus of your struggle must be against the corporation itself and its concentrations of wealth and power.

Claire Fauset is a political writer and poet. She currently works for Corporate Watch, and bounces up and down doing performances of these poems.