This blog piece explores the history of women’s rights and explains where we stand today after all these years. How to progress women’s rights, ensure gender equality and create an equal world are questions of essence to all of us.
The first seeds for International Women’s Day were planted in 1908 at a labour movement in New York at which women marched for better pay and the right to vote. More than 110 years later, we look back at an incredible progress of women’s rights and a legacy of inspiring women who have shaped today’s world. Hundred years ago, in 1921, women were dreaming of a world in which they would attend universities, cast their vote and assume leadership roles in which they could change history and influence modern society. Today, this is a reality for many women.
Nearly in every country, women now have the right to vote. Globally, twenty-five per cent of seats in national parliaments are held by women — more than double that in 1995. The number of girls who drop out of primary school has halved in the last 25 years down to 32 million. Ninety per cent of girls aged between 19–24 are able to read. Never before have fewer women died at childbirth. And girls born today are expected to live nearly eight years longer than girls born in 1995.
“Unless I am allowed to tell the story of my life in my own way, I cannot tell it at all.” — Mary Seacole (1805–81), British-Jamaican nurse
Stronger girls and women contribute to building a stronger and a better world. Katherine Hepburn is one of history’s strong and inspiring women. A fashion icon, she changed the idea of what was perceived as traditionally feminine. Wearing trousers, at a time where skirts and dresses were the norm for women, she inspired many with her confidence and independent mind. Rosa Parks is well-known for her bravery in refusing to give up her bus seat for a white man. Her fearless resistance prompted a boycott against racial segregation and until today Rosa Parks continues to inspire. In early 2021, we witnessed an African/Asian American woman being sworn into office as Vice President for the first time in U.S. history. More than hundred years after the seeds for the first International Women’s Day were planted, a woman finally entered office as Vice President in the United States.
Much progress has been made to increase women’s participation in the labour market, keep girls and young women in education and reduce gender stigma. Unequal pay however continues to be pervasive with women globally being paid only 63% of what men get paid, according to the World Economic Forum. Women are also still much less likely to occupy senior managerial positions coupled with higher likelihood of interrupting their careers for mothering duties. Motherhood and the lack of adequate maternity policies continue to create barriers to women pursuing a career in many countries. No woman should have to choose between giving the gift of birth and pursuing her own individual dreams. And yet, it continues to remain a reality for many of us.
Over the past hundred years, the world has unprecedentedly advanced women’s rights, guaranteeing our daughters a better future. The pandemic’s consequences are now threatening much of this progress. All around the world women are unequally carrying the pandemic’s burden. Women are more likely to be in part-time jobs and tied into precarious working contracts, having less economic security than their male counterparts. In the pandemic women’s economic securities were the first to be impacted. According to a study by UN Women, a shocking 47 million women will be pushed into poverty as a result of Covid-19. Whilst women only make up 39 percent of global employment, they accounted for 54 percent of overall job losses during Covid-19, according to McKinsey. Unpaid work, such as domestic and caring duties, has risen drastically for women partly due to school closures.
Even before Covid-19, the World Economic Forum assessed that it would take 95 years to close the gender gap in political representation and 257 years to close the economic gender gap. This means that no woman alive today, nor their daughters and granddaughters will live equal to their brothers.
“There must be more equality established in society, or morality will never gain ground, and this virtuous equality will not rest firmly even when founded on a rock, if one half of mankind be chained to its bottom by fate, for they will be continually undermining it through ignorance or pride.” — Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–97), author and early advocator of women’s rights
Nevertheless, collectively as women, we can be proud of where we have come today. In honour of the remarkable women who stood up for our rights, we must continue their journey to achieve equality for all women. My hope is for every woman and every girl to see and understand their true potential, believe in their freedoms, have the courage to live fully without the veil of self-doubt, shame, guilt and artificial limitations and shine bright in this world. Because a gender-equal world is not only a better place for women but a better world from an economic, social, environmental, cultural and any perspective. It is better world in its entirety.
Today is International Women’s Day, but I urge us all to celebrate womanhood every day.
For more resources visit www.internationalwomensday.com