Every year around March 8, women become the subject of predilection for those perpetually-tortured souls that see social injustice everywhere. International Women’s Day is supposed to celebrate women, but it too often sets the stage for women, not as individual human beings but as a group or a minority, to be used to advance some political agendas.
Originally created by the international socialist movement at the beginning of the 20th century, at a time when women, including those in western countries, had much less political and economic rights, International Women’s Day is now a recognized celebration in many countries, including the United States. The UN’s theme for the celebration this year is “Equality for women is progress for all.” Equality for women is a catchy theme in politics. Some use it as a rallying cry as they proclaim that there is an ongoing war against women in the United States.
As a woman, I can’t help but pause and ask: What?!
Women’s conditions in western countries have improved more during the past two centuries than in many centuries before. The industrial revolution first, then the development of free markets around the world brought opportunities to women to become independent. Little by little, the progress due to economic freedom and capitalism enabled women to help sustain their family by working outside their homes; advances in productivity progressively enabled them to send their children to school instead of factories; the revolution in the textile industry, the invention of tools such as washing machines, vacuum cleaners and other appliances gave them more time to graduate from university and to choose in which direction they wanted their life to go.
With political and economic rights today, women in the United States today are CEOs of multinationals and brain surgeons; they fight in the army, teach physics, write books… or they choose to stay at home. Economic freedom not only helped them become independent, it gave them choices. Let’s make no mistake: just because women are underrepresented in an area – say, on a political ballot for example, doesn’t mean they are discriminated against. It could simply mean that they chose not to follow this path. Today, American women can choose to follow what fits their skills and aspirations best. They have become as independent as any man can be.
Arguably, this is not the case everywhere around the world. What is the biggest difference between countries in which women have the opportunity to pursue their happiness and those in which women’s well-being is still low? Back in 2008, the National Center for Policy Analysis published a brief analysis in which they compared improvements in political rights and economic rights for women and concluded that economic rights played a crucial role in the development of women’s well-being. The rule of law, private property, the freedom to contract and to compete; free market-oriented reforms like these increase the well-being of women.
Yet today, in places such as the U.S. where women benefit from an infinitely better life than even their grand-mothers did, we are told that women, as a group, are being treated unequally: they need access to better healthcare, they need access to corporate board rooms, they need to be added to political ballots, they need privileges because they are women. We are told that they need government intervention to help them succeed where independent women have been succeeding on their own for at least the past 50 years. We are told that women cannot succeed by themselves because they are women. This is offensive and discriminatory.
Women everywhere would benefit from the same economic freedom that American women benefit from. If an International Women’s Day there must be, this is what it should focus on.