International Women's Day

The rights and wrongs of Women's Day

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 March, 2004, 12:00am

It is always good to see efforts being made to promote equality between the sexes. And on the eve of International Women's Day, examples are not hard to find. Many of these activities, however, involve the world of commerce. And here, things are not quite as simple as they may first appear.

Take for example the admirable attempt by Swedish car giant Volvo to design a car for women. The concept car was exhibited at the Geneva Motor Show last week. This might be seen as a bold step intended to bring a little balance into the male-dominated motor industry. But take a look at the special features intended to make the model 'female-friendly''. There is a hole in the headrest through which women drivers can conveniently put their ponytails. Seats in the back flip up, making it great for doing all the family shopping. And best of all is the big rubber bumper which runs right around the car. Women, it was obviously thought, would need a little more protection than men when tackling those tricky parking problems. A nice sales gimmick maybe, but one which enforces stereotypes.

Then we have the special show which took place at Harbour City shopping mall yesterday. This was billed as an event staged in celebration of Women's Day. However, the title 'Salute to Women - Beauty Queen' suggests this was perhaps not a function likely to change entrenched views or bring down the barriers. It involved makeup tips and hairstyling demonstrations, as well as plugs for various brands on sale nearby. There is nothing wrong with that, and the women involved no doubt enjoyed themselves. But this is certainly not what International Women's Day is about.

Meanwhile, in Singapore, a row has developed over the choice of sponsors for the annual event - one of them is a diet centre.

Much progress has been made over the years in eliminating discrimination. As one result, women in many parts of the world have more money to spend. An increasingly powerful group of consumers has therefore emerged. Businesses, of course, have not been slow to react. The targeting of women smokers, for example, dates back decades. And the methods used to encourage women to buy often tend to reinforce the very attitudes which lead to discrimination. The use of women as sex symbols in advertising everything from perfume to ice cream is a prime example.

International Women's Day is all about giving women a voice. And there are many grave problems around the world which urgently need to be tackled. They include domestic violence, poverty, the impact of armed conflicts on women and the spread of Aids. Tomorrow should be used to focus attention on issues such as these - not as an excuse to sell a few more products.