The Great Debate: Has International Women's Day become too commercialised?

Or it is a worthy reminder to show gratitude? The National's Katy Gillett and Saeed Saeed go head-to-head on the issue

Katy Gillett: International Women's Day has been observed since the early 1900s. It was an incredibly important step back then. However, in 2021, I can't help but feel its poignancy has been watered down somewhat.

My inbox is full of emails from public relations companies telling me about deals for women – from spa and beauty treatments to drinks to be had with girlfriends.

I’m pretty sure the organisers of the first IWD didn’t have that in mind when they devised a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

Saeed Saeed: Well, you said it right there. The key word here is "celebrate" and, as a man, I think the more places we see the promotion of days celebrating women, the better for the cause.

What I'm saying is that this can be done in a fun way that doesn’t necessarily undercut its message.

I like the idea of sending my hard-working mum and sister on a great day out as a small gesture to show how they inspire me.

KG: I get your point but, to me, a discount on a beauty treatment for a day that's supposed to honour female achievement is almost insulting. It reinforces gender stereotypes and totally undermines the whole idea behind the day.

SS: OK, a beauty treatment is cliched, but it doesn't take away from the fact some of these offers can be used or given as an expression of gratitude.

If you feel that undermines the day, then what suggestions do you have to celebrate it in a more befitting manner?

KG: Well, Saeed, I'm glad you asked. For a start, any one of these companies peddling discounts on beauty treatments could at least pledge to donate a percentage of the proceeds from their campaign to a charity or NGO that supports women in some way.

Any that don’t leave a bad taste in my mouth, to be honest.

SS: I agree with that, but that's for companies and small business owners. What do you suggest I should do if I want to show my appreciation to a friend or family member on this occasion?

If a meal or a session in a salon reinforces stereotypes, then what are the other options? I suppose chocolates and flowers do the same?

KG: If you feel like giving a loved one chocolates or flowers on International Women's Day to show you care, and the woman in question is partial to some cocoa or blooms, I say go for it. On a personal level, that's lovely, although one might argue you could do so any day of the year.

The issue here is more about the commercialisation of a day that was supposed to raise women up as they reach for equality. I don’t believe profit-making themed afternoon teas that will inevitably serve cakes doused with pink icing are the way to go about that.

SS: Indeed, I can do that any day of the year, but that's the great thing about these special event days. With our fast-paced lives, it gives us a chance to reflect, even for a moment, on the issue at hand and the special people in our lives.

I don't think we can ever stop the commercialisation of these days – look at the annual Christmas and Eid sales – but it is up to us as individuals to make those days count.

Perhaps instead of a special nail polish design, we could have free annual library memberships for young girls. Or how about discounts on educational courses for female university students?

If our hearts are in it and our appreciation is real, then the “Women’s Day brunch” is worth it. If we are just paying lip service, it does leave a bitter taste.

KG: Perhaps, instead of a special nail polish design, we could have free annual library memberships for young girls. Or how about discounts on educational courses for female university students? What if those salons and restaurants offering discounts and deals instead invited a few female interns in to shadow their management team to mark the occasion?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against getting your nails done or having brunch in general, but associating that with this just isn’t the point.

SS: It is a matter of balance, I agree. I am down with library memberships, courses and homework, as long as we can let our hair down after all that and hit those restaurants.

KG: At the end of the day, this year's theme for IWD is Choose to Challenge; "a challenged world is an alert world". The aims of the day, as per the official website, are to: celebrate women's achievements, raise awareness about women's equality, lobby for accelerated gender parity and fundraise for female-focused charities.

The kind of deals I’m talking about aren’t living up to any of these goals.

You, however, marking the day with a gift for your mother or sister does on a micro level. So, please, don’t let me put you off.

SS: My gift card has already been sent.