Women at the coal face

7 March 2022

Women have often been ‘at the coal face’ (at the place where the real work is done) of gender discrimination, but would you be surprised to learn that women have also been literally at the coal face in the mining industry since the middle-ages and before?

Cities across Europe are mining the female experience to focus on gender justice this International Women’s day, including activities like Belfast’s workshops on financial planning, Bologna’s gender budget, Chemnitz’s exhibition of female painters, Dortmund’s public lecture on the history of women in the mining industry, Florence’s focus on female victims of war, Glasgow’s event on women in Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Izmir’s extra day off for women, Poznan’s honouring of important local women, and Stuttgart’s focus on ‘Womanomics’ (a concept marrying economics with women’s issues).

Getting around the table

Municipalities will be reaching out to engage locals in lectures and workshops on International Women’s Day. In Belfast, Chemnitz, Dortmund, Izmir and Stuttgart, a central theme will be economic and professional success for women, with workshops around financial planning, entrepreneurship, pensions, and ‘Womanomics’.

Poster for International Women’s Day in Izmir

In Chemnitz, these will be complimented by a workshop explaining and promoting parental leave for fathers, exploring options, government financial support, questions and legal rights.

Workshops in these cities will also pertain to home and social life, covering sexual harassment, nutrition and menopause, child-to-parent violence, feminist theology, women in the mining sector, activating young feminists, and counter-strategies to anti-feminism.

Mental health will also be a central topic in some cities, with Glasgow holding writing workshop on the subject and Belfast holding lunchtime mindfulness sessions.

In Florence, a round table and a game will take up the theme of female solidarity, looking in particular at women suffering as a result of wars in Afghanistan and Ukraine.

Seeing the city anew

All over Europe, people will be taking to the streets to demonstrate female solidarity and allegiance with with rallies and tours. Belfast’s public square will see crowds gather for speeches from ‘World Changing Women,’ including the city’s Lord Mayor, Kate Nicholl. At a ceremony and concert, Izmir give awards to good practices in fighting discrimination and violence.

Belfast International Women’s Day poster

In Chemnitz, Dortmund and Izmir, new gender-focused tours of the city will illuminate the history of great local women. With Izmir having been announced ‘Women Friendly City’ by the United Nations, and the Chemnitz labour union getting involved to open up the history of labour movements, these are sure to be unmissable interventions.

In Stuttgart, the big gathering will take the form of a networking event, bringing together women and men involved in the area of equal opportunities and diversity or those who want to do so in the future.

Valencia has prepared activities under the slogan “Feminism for all”. During the second week of March and in different neighbourhoods of the city, a series of workshops will be held by the council. One of them is “Understanding intersectionality”, to approach the reality of women, delving into the oppressions and discriminations. Also, citizens will be able to enjoy a dance that follows a striking visual narrative.

Looking within

Both Belfast and Bologna are using International Women’s day to look into their own institutional structures. Bologna will launch an annual report evaluating its internal policies on gender and racial equality, which they’ve developed through educational workshops and exchange of practices with other institutions.

Ocular spectacular

The day will see a deluge of screenings. Bologna will show a film on bell hooks, Dortmund on a local female rabbi who fought for equal rights for Jewish women, while Stuttgart will air a film that it has produced on what  International Women’s Day means to different people.

In Chemnitz, the whole city will see the world through women’s eyes, as a selection of local female painters – as well as those from Chemnitz’s sister cities Lodz and Tampere – will go on show. A particularly haunting painting from this exhibition has been used as the title image of this article. Workshops delving into these paintings will allow locals to engage in art analysis while raising awareness about the female perspective.

Cities will also use media campaigns to get the message across. In Bologna, a ‘herstory’ Instagram page will highlight the importance of women in gaining racial equality in the United States. In Glasgow, the hashtag #BreakTheBias will encourage everyone in the city to join the campaign for equal treatment.

In Poznan, the city will collaborate with local NGOs to launch ‘Poznanianki’ (Poznanian Women), a social campaign that will showcase local women’s  extraordinary initiatives, achievements and ideas. This activity is an evolution of previous years’ ‘Woman of the year’ competition which was open to public vote. The idea to reshape the event came after women’s organisations felt that a wider embrace would be more appropriate to the theme of gender empowerment.

Florence, meanwhile will encourage women to enjoy taking in culture as well as producing it, offering free entrance to all municipal museums to women on International Women’s Day.

Ghent is using the day to showcase a video portrait it has developed of an inspiring local young woman, Ayame, who worked with other champions of change on sexual harassment to contribute to contribute recommendations to the city that were included in its Safer Cities Report.

Year-round awareness

International Women’s Day will also the be occasion to launch or promote ongoing work in Europe’s cities. For example, Bologna has a year-round ‘gender budget’ to support policymaking – a tool that helps decision-makers evaluate the ramifications of policy decisions on women. The city will also begin to right injustice in naming practices by pledging to name the next three new streets, pedestrian walkways or bicycle lanes after female figures. Similarly, Florence will dedicate a new square to Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg.

Izmir is granting every woman working in the municipality an extra day of holidays this week. Stuttgart will work with club and disco operators to raise awareness and make nightlife more female-friendly, including through a night-time counselling centre.

School girls hold signs about sustainability in Glasgow
School girls recognise that sustainability is a feminist issue at COP in Glasgow

Glasgow got started on International Woman’s Day early with its Girls At COP26 – the Solutions are Feminist initiative for secondary school girls, and it’s planning to keep up the momentum by highlighting women working in STEM during  Science Week 2022.

Whichever European city you find yourself in on International Women’s Day, you can be guaranteed that there is a lot going on – a lot of small steps working in tandem to bring us to the long-guaranteed, yet still elusive goal of gender parity.


Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer