International Women’s day was first marked in 1911 by over one million women and men in a number of European countries. One century later it is impossible to deny the level of progress that has been made in the developed world when it comes to women’s rights, with the gender having been emancipated from unequal treatment and oppression. Women in the west can now vote and can choose how to live their lives without seeking permission from fathers or husbands. Many women, and men, now understandably feel that the battle has been won as International Women’s Day is now marked globally. It is even a national holiday in a number of post-communist countries and now seen as being much more than charity.
Despite all the success, it is debatable whether women have equal access to education or indeed whether simple increased access has provided decent employment opportunities for all women. Many women still work a double or triple day having to combine domestic responsibilities with the responsibilities of their careers. In Britain, women still have not achieved parity in pay for equal work despite what the law says, and women are much less likely to reach the highest levels of the board room.
Stereotypes promoted by the media have wrongly given women the notion that they must be superheroes, being able to successfully combine a high flying career with being a yummy mummy who within 30 minutes can whip up a fantastic meal after a full day of work. It is no wonder that women are more likely to suffer depression and other mental illnesses than men.
Technology, antibiotics and contraception have helped relieve the domestic burdens of cleaning and cooking, as well as reduce maternal death rates and enable women to control their fertility. Being able to be relieved of the burden of multiple pregnancies, women are now free to pursue their careers and improve the quality of their lives.
So whilst there is much to celebrate on this centenary International Women’s Day, there are millions if not billions of women who do not benefit at all from education or science and are still disenfranchised.
More than 50 per cent of the world’s population are women, yet they control only one per cent of the world’s wealth. This disparity means that a path to decent income for most women simply does not exist.
The rural poor simply have no access to well paid work, with sixty percent of the poorest people in the world being women, who must provide primary care for their family, produce food, work in the fields, carry water and cook.
Women still do not have equal access to education, with two thirds of all children who do not attend schools being girls. Those girls who do go to school still face a number of issues which may result in them dropping out. Many parents simply do not see any value in educating their female children, and many schools lack adequate toilet facilities making it problematic for adolescent girls.
Female representation in politics still remains dismally low, with women making up less than 16 percent of the world’s parliamentarians. Too many women continue to die from maternal causes, with many of those deaths and disabilities preventable.
On 8 March 2011 we will celebrate a hundred years of progress, but we must recognise that women’s empowerment is still a distant dream. We must continue to press for a better lot for women. Let’s hope it takes less than another hundred years for global leaders to act to ensure half of humanity contributes and benefits equally.