Every year on March 8th, International Women’s Day recognises and applauds women’s achievements and highlights gender inequalities.
The World Economic Forum has identified that eighty-five per cent of countries have improved conditions for women over the past six years. Although this is a reason to celebrate, politically and economically women still have challenges ahead. One hundred and one years since the first International Women’s Day much has been achieved but inequality continues to exist.
We can celebrate that Iceland has the greatest equality between men and women, taking into account politics, education, employment and health indicators. For women in Lesotho 95 per cent of women are able to read and write, compared with 83 per cent of men. Thailand has the greatest percentage of women in senior management (45 per cent). These are all examples of the achievements that women should be proud of.
These have been hard-won victories but we cannot be complacent about the global differences in equality for women and the challenges that many face around the globe in championing women’s rights.
In Afghanistan a woman is 200 times more likely to die during childbirth than from bombs or bullets while in Norway only one in 76,000 women suffer from maternal mortality. Greek figures show only one in 31,800 women die as a result of childbirth, a stark contrast to Sudan where there are only 20 midwives in the whole country. Women are dying unnecessarily during pregnancy.
With so few women dying in the developed world, why is it so different in Sudan and Afghanistan?
Understanding the issues affecting women is vital to ensure the next International Women’s Day will be an even bigger success, marking real progress year on year. Analysing and tackling the typical gender views around women, limited resources for women at work and at home, and poverty and literary rates are all challenges we face today.
At home we need to tackle the disparity of wages, the ‘glass ceiling’ at senior levels and the assumption that women cannot have a career and a family. Women left solely to care for elderly parents or young children face a lack of support and understanding. Society can be be timid in looking at how traditional cultural or religious backgrounds can hold back a woman.
A first step must surely be to tackle the huge inequality in political representation women have, at home as much as abroad. The under-representation of women in a democratic society undermines the very point of representative democracy and makes it hard for the UK to lecture other countries on inequality.
Implementing change that ensures women are able to effectively participate and become active members of society is not easy. Issues facing women are diverse; a lot more needs to be done. Change is a process that is based on local knowledge that takes time. Communication and understanding of what women need and want ensure change can happen.
This International Women’s Day we should embrace our accomplishments but be ever mindful that women across the world continue to suffer disproportionately from poverty, vulnerability and exclusion. Today is about reflecting on how far we have come, looking at the present obstacles facing women and aiming for an equal future.
• New OECD data shows how far Britain lags behind in women’s boardroom representation – Shamik Das, March 5th 2012
• Women’s representation in movies: Not half good enough – Daniel Elton, December 28th 2011
• The lack of women in Westminster has gone on for too long – Nan Sloane, October 25th 2011
• Osborne’s mini-budget takes £1.7bn from women – Alex Hern, December 1st 2011
• Poll shows widespread sexism; Mail says: “Women declare sexism dead” – Daniel Elton, March 8th 2011
• Why is there such little coverage of women’s sport? – Shamik Das, January 24th 2011
• Gender inequality: Women still earn 20% less than men – Shamik Das, March 8th 2010