International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, while focusing world attention on areas which still need improvement, and calling for action to accelerate gender parity.
On this day, we look back at the Suffragette movement, where women before us fought for the right to work. To the huge rallies across America and Europe in 1911, fighting for the right to hold office, work and be trained. And then we look forward, to how we can get closer to achieving full balance, to complete gender equality. Because we’re not there yet.
Even if you think you’re workplace seems equal, there’s the gender pay gap. Figures from the last financial year showed that men are paid more than women in 7,795 out of 10,016 companies and public bodies in Britain.
Then, there’s the ‘Oh, but what about Men’s day?’ attitude, casual sexism and sexual harassment in and out of the workplace. Not to mention the ridiculous reports of mothers being asked to feed their babies behind screens at Newham Hospital in East London – just one of many similar tales of breastfeeding woe from various cafes, restaurants and public services in the UK.
International Women’s Day is not about ignoring male issues – addressed on International Men’s Day on November 19th by the way – it is an acknowledgement of the state of gendered privilege and disadvantage around the world. A day to highlight that ‘business as usual’ can often be dominated by men, and exclude women. It’s a day to stand up to this imbalance.
When we think of issues worldwide associated with women’s equality, it becomes even more obvious that there’s still a long way to go.
Youth led development agency, Restless Development are calling for legal change in Madagascar, to allow young women under 18 to access contraception. Whilst in Uganda, they are highlighting how gender-based discrimination in the working market confines women to low paying jobs, with poor working conditions.
These kinds of issues reinforce the all too common status of girls and young women as secondary workers and housewives.
There are women in factories across the world making products for us, including our clothes. Many of these women are poorly paid, working in sweat shops with horrific conditions. When we buy poor clothes, we put these women down – we pass the message that we’re OK for these women to be treated as less than equal.
People Tree are just one of the many fairtrade fashion suppliers who are calling for the ethical production of clothing, fair pay and fair working conditions worldwide. They actively support women across the world, partnering with producers who empower disadvantaged women from developing communities, through economic independence, education and charity.
Just one such example is Swallows – set up to provide education and employment opportunities for women after their village in Bangladesh was devastated by the 1971 war of independence, and all adult males were killed.
Through fairtrade principles, and the support of People Tree, Swallows has now become an independent organisation, empowering the women of Thanapara in Bangladesh.
You can read more about People Tree’s work to empower women here.
Being aware of what you buy and support is very important when it comes to ensuring equality and fair treatment. You would be forgiven for assuming, for example, that by purchasing a Spice Girls – with female empowerment slogans – t-shirt for Comic Relief, that you would be doing a good thing. Sadly, a Guardian investigation revealed that the women in the factory making these were being paid just 40 cents an hour.
Supporting fairly traded, ethically made products, is very important if we want to close the equality gap.
As you can see, we have a long way to go across the whole world before we can celebrate gender parity and balance. Keep supporting strong, independent women, hold them up as role models and show the world that we are equal. That balance is the right and only way of the future.
Join in with International Women’s Day by striking your #balanceforbetter pose and tweeting your support.
Happy International Women’s Day!