As a society we’ve noted some successes recently in advancing the rights of the LGBTQ community, providing protections for a long-persecuted minority. Though not a minority at all, another group’s struggle for equal footing is marked via International Women’s Day, set for Sunday.
The UN first declared March 8 International Women’s Day in 1975, but the movement dates back to the early part of the 20th century, part of the struggle for universal suffrage during a time also notable for a range of inequities.
As with much of our activist past, its roots are in the general workers’ struggle for rights. In 1909 in New Year City, the Socialist Party of America organized a “National Woman’s Day.” The following year at a meeting of the International Socialist Women’s Conference in Denmark, there was a call for an annual Women’s Day. The first International Women’s Day was observed on March 19, 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. That day, more than one million women and men showed their support by participating in public events.
Hundreds of demonstrations were held in conjunction with the first IWD, reflecting a growing call for women to participate equally in society.
We’ve advanced significantly since that time, particularly in the West, but there’s still not one country that has achieved gender equality, according to the United Nations.
The situation is much better in Canada, for example, than in many parts of the world, but we can’t rest on any laurels. Still, legal restrictions keep 2.7 billion women from accessing the same choice of jobs as men. That applies to elected office, as UN figures show less than 25 per cent of parliamentarians were women as of 2019.
One in three women experience gender-based violence.
Some 740 million women currently make their living in the informal economy with limited access to social protection, public services and infrastructure that could increase their productivity and income security.
Multiple obstacles to women’s rights remain unchanged in law and in culture. Women and girls continue to be undervalued. They work more, earn less and have fewer choices. Even in the face of some improvements in the labour market, the fight for gender equality at workplaces is far from over. Recent reports by UN Women show that women in economic activities continue to suffer various forms of discrimination and unequal treatment. They also note that women’s labour force participation has stagnated.
According to UN figures, marriage and motherhood reduce women’s labour force participation rates, and the income and benefits that come with it. Globally, just over half of married women aged 25-54 are in the labour force, compared to two-thirds of single women, and 96 per cent of married men.
Violence and health issues are also part of ongoing gender inequality. Women experience multiple forms of violence at home and in public spaces. Furthermore, there is a significant threat of a rollback of feminist gains, even in the West as authoritarianism creeps in, often assisted by right-wing and religious intolerance.
Conservative, often religious movements have taken aim at so-called family values, usually to the detriment of society and women in particular. Some of this has come in reaction to such realities as the increasing age of marriage and declining birth rates, which have played a part in women’s increased economic autonomy.
We’ve certainly seen a shift in family dynamics. Globally, 38 per cent of households are couples living with children, and extended families are almost as common (27%). The vast majority of single-parent families, which make up eight per cent of households, are led by women, often juggling paid work, child-rearing and domestic work. Same-sex families are increasingly visible, as well.
The theme of International Women’s Day 2020 is “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.