Joanne O'Riordan: We need to move on from one-day celebrations of women

Joanne O’Riordan: We need to normalise women in leadership, broadcasting and sporting roles

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day was “Choose To Challenge”, and, as per usual, we were inundated with press releases, Twitter announcements, LinkedIn announcements and Instagram posts wishing all women a happy International Women’s Day.

As a friend sent to me on WhatsApp, the well wishes were similar to something you’d see in Father Ted. I’m paraphrasing, but, “Women, a great bunch of lads”.

So, while I did events across the day, I was met with the same question throughout: what would my challenge be to various companies and government organisations across the board? For starters, although I admire the commitment from some companies to use March 8th to save all their women-oriented announcements, I have to ask if March 8th is the only day we’ll see the women of the house rolled out.

The same issue exists in sports. A series of rugby clubs in the UK tweeted and posted on Instagram how proud they were to stand by their women on such a historic day. Those same rugby clubs forced those same players to fundraise for surgeries, rehabilitation and injury recovery strategies.


Do better

At my beloved FC Barcelona, Joan Laporta was elected president of the club for a second stint, but during a week of virtual campaigning he couldn’t name a single female football player at the club, despite former Euros and The Best Fifa Women’s Player winner Lieke Martens being the club’s most outright signing, or even leading goal scorer Jenni Hermoso. He has since promised that he’ll do better.

Even in the sports media circles, things aren’t as glossy as they seem. Many logos were turning purple or pink, a lot of lovely marketing campaigns and many topics raised that provided food for thought for about two whole hours. A part of me wondered if the effort and energy put into International Women’s Day were put in to ensure women are welcomed more into the media and put forward for broadcasts or different programmes, wouldn’t that make a better impact.

We need to move on from one-day celebrations, and we need to normalise and accept women in leadership, broadcasting and sporting roles, and everything in between. We’ve become so accustomed to being so happy when a “first” is announced (first female referee, first female coach, first female CEO), we forget to make sure it’s not the last.

We know from our own experiences of being locked down how it feels isolated and forgotten. We must change the normal and work towards better equality

According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Women’s Power Index, 64 of the 193 countries surveyed have elected a female head of state. There are currently 22 countries with a woman leader. The Football Association is close to announcing Debbie Hewitt, made an MBE for services to business in 2011, the first chairwoman of the association in its 158-year history, after Greg Clarke resigned last November.

Here in Ireland, the Olympic Federation of Ireland passed a motion in September unanimously to ensure a minimum gender balance on its executive committee. This initiative was brought forward by current president Sarah Keane and honorary secretary general Sarah O’Shea.

For the first time ever, at least one female and one male athlete in each of the 206 teams will participate at the Olympic and Paralympic games. This reflects how many women participate in sport in some form, with the figure in Ireland at 40.8 per cent.

Incredible job

Another point is how essential it is to ensure there’s a mix of women involved in sport. The England women’s national team was slated last month because it was mainly white women who made up the panel. During every marketing campaign, we have to ask ourselves what women are we targeting and make it as easy as possible for them to access sport.

The Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association have done an incredible job with their Gaelic4Mothers and Others programme, creating an environment for women, especially mothers, to participate in a way that is fun and encourages them to socialise.

We must start moving on with the conversation and begin to lead by doing. We have definitely started to move forward in the right way. We know from our own experiences of being locked down how it feels isolated and forgotten. We must change the normal and work towards better equality.

Genuine progress has occurred throughout the world in recent history, and the appetite for change is there. Many organisations are setting targets, and there is an awareness that it hasn’t been a level playing field and that inequalities exist.

But to make sure International Women’s Day doesn’t become a Hallmark holiday card greeting and a time for companies to wheel out the tokenistic women, we must ask that these businesses, organisations and outlets keep the work going for the other 364 days.