international woman's day

Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere this International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD) and already women enthralled in the 24-hour strike is set to peak the Richter scale of female rage and disruption. 

The struggle for women’s rights has been an uphill battle that has waged for centuries. Crusades such as the right to work, education, vote, own property, read books, wear trousers, access loans, make money (and keep it), compete in sports, access birth control and abortions, run for office and divorce have been victorious. The Equality Act 2010 enshrines these rights, including the right to maternity leave (without being fired) and single-sex provisions.

International Woman's Day Emily Davison
International Women’s Day: Suffragette and socialist, Emily Davison, fought for women’s right to vote and died by King George’s horse at the 1913 derby. She had endured 9 arrests, 7 hunger strikes and 49 force-feedings prior. [Image: BBC].

However, the fight has not been without loss. Yet the slain sheroes that came before us only serve as a reminder of our unfinished work. Women’s worldwide equity is long overdue and, as Audre Lorde put it in 1981, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

“I’m a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side.”

Maya Angelou

But for International Women’s Day this year, the march of boots you will not hear: women are demanding an end to the male tyranny that dominates every arena of public and private life by point-blank refusing to participate in it for 24-hours.

A day of activism – or passivism – achieves little at eradicating male violence against women and girls (VAWG), but it disrupts the core of the system nonetheless.

2019 International Women's Day
US women protest the Trump administration last year on International Women’s Day [Image: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/ The Guardian.]

Women are all-too-aware that feminist goals are inconvenient to the status quo and liberation can only be attained one jot at a time. Momentum is markedly slow and change takes time to catch on. Take for instance that the Equal Pay Act was passed almost 50 years ago and yet the Gender Pay Gap (GPG) review only began in 2017 – and shed light on hundreds of companies (78 per cent) that have continued to live in the shadows of a bygone era by underpaying its female staff when it did so.

Even the BBC lost its battle in court after is emerged the broadcaster had been paying radio presenter Samira Ahmed £440 for the same job as Jeremy Vine, who received £3,000 per episode for a period of ten years. (Ahmed is now receiving £700,000 in back pay.)

In the US, there are more senators and governors named John than there are women occupying such roles

But the political landscape for women remains just as desolate. Despite women making up 51 per cent of the electorate, men continue to outnumber women 2:1 in Parliament. In the US, there are more senators and governors named John than there are women occupying such roles.

Worldwide, women make up a meagre 18 per cent of cabinet ministers and 24 per cent of parliamentarians – a disparity that will continue to persist for as long as 90 per cent of men and women around the globe remain prejudiced against women as political leaders and business executives, and for as long as 1 in 3 schoolboys believe girls – and refugees – don’t deserve the same right to education. 

international woman's day women in parliament
What the House of Commons looks like when men are removed. [Image: Elle Uk/Upworthy].

Indeed, parity isn’t scheduled within the parameters of the modern century: the World Economic Forum estimates it will take another 202 years for the sun to set on male supremacy, in which women receive equal pay, seniority and participation in the workplace.

Parity isn’t scheduled within the parameters of the modern century: the World Economic Forum estimates it will take another 202 years for the sun to set on male supremacy

Yet this gulf will only exacerbate the ongoing wealth disparity between men and women. It is no secret that poverty disproportionately hits women hardest: women shoulder 86 per cent of the austerity burden in the UK as the Conservative’s cuts have ripped through women’s refuges, childcare, pay and working conditions like a tornado. Decimated charities and support groups have been left to squabble over the pieces of remaining rubble and scraps of funding. 

Menstrual products only recently became free in Scotland, yet period poverty continues to plague low-income families, refugee women and prohibit young girls from going to school across the rest of the UK. Universal credit, zero-hour contracts, pittance disability allowance and rising tuition fees have forced women out onto the streets to sell sex to survive. Poverty disproportionately plunges women into hardship, and women resort to whatever methods they can to get by in the absence of governmental help.

“I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”

Mary Wollstonecraft

There is effectively an amnesty on male violence in the UK too: a paltry 1.4 per cent of rapes reported turn into convictions while the UK Femicide Census shows that the number of women murdered by men is increasing every year. VAWG kills 15 times more women than terrorism achieves per annum, but misogyny is yet to be recognised as a stand-alone hate crime.

VAWG kills 15 times more women than terrorism achieves per annum, but misogyny is yet to be recognised as a stand-alone hate crime

In Mexico, the figures point to a methodical culling of the female sex. 10 women a day are murdered in the country, but 90 per cent of femicides go unpunished.

Following the brutal and degrading murders and abuse of 25-year old Ingrid Escamilla and 7-year old Fátima Aldrighett in the same week last month, Mexican feminists are staging ‘A Day Without Us’ in line with International Women’s Day for Monday 9 March. This day will see women refuse to work, go to school, do any housework or care for the sick and elderly. Make no mistake, the initiative will hurt men the hardest: women refusing to participate in the daily graft will cost the Mexican economy an estimated $1.37 billion.  

Mexico is leading the way for International Woman's Day
International Women’s Day: The feminist movement in Mexico has reached boiling point. Activists pictured here are defacing The National Palace last month to protest against femicide. [Image: Ginnette Riquelme/Associated Press/New York Times.]

“It is against the entire Mexican state, against the private sector, against the men who harass, who rape and who kill, and against those good men who stand by and do nothing”, Sabina Berman, a Mexican novelist and feminist activist said

It is time women around the world adopted the same angst with fervour and valour; this war on women cannot persist. And no, feminism is not just about achieving equality with men and getting them onside: it is about liberating women from the systemic imbalance and oppression perpetrated by males. It is about economic freedom as much as it is about gaining physical freedom.

“A commitment to sexual equality with men is a commitment to becoming the rich instead of the poor, the rapist instead of the raped, the murderer instead of the murdered.”

Andrea Dworkin

When feminists in Iceland on 24 October 1975 abandoned their domestic labour, known as the ‘Woman’s Day Off’, the economy fell to its knees and saw women awarded with equal pay the following year. Iceland now stands as a beacon of hope for women around the world, boasting higher rates of women’s labour force participation than anywhere else. What it taught us is that asking nicely does not work; being kind does not work and “well-behaved women seldom make history” (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 1976). 

international woman's day strikes in Iceland
International Women’s Day: 25,000 women protested in Reykjavik on the day dubbed ‘Long Friday’. [Image: Icelandic Women’s History Archives/Jacobin.]

But an end to male violence and equal pay is but two portions of the many multifaceted objectives of feminism. Axing the burden of unpaid labour for women is another – and is crucially interwoven with these goals.  

Those who break free from the mould are excessively scrutinised and frowned upon, shamed as bad mothers, unsatisfying wives or ungrateful daughters

Consider that there is not one country in the world where men outweigh women’s contribution to unpaid labour. The smallest divides are found in Sweden, Denmark and Norway where progressive programmes including free childcare and elderly care have proved to liberate women into the workforce.  

“Anyone who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without feminine upheaval. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex, the ugly ones included.”

Karl Marx

Elsewhere, however, daughters, sisters and mothers are arduously scurrying away. 606 million women worldwide are ensnared in domestic and caring responsibilities compared to that of only 41 million men. 75 per cent of all unpaid work around the world is undertaken by women, totting up to an average of 4 hours and 25 minutes each day – more than three times the average for men who spend only 1 hour and 23 minutes chipping in.

International Woman's Day remembers the women who came before us
An iconic photograph of a woman hitting a neo-Nazi with her handbag, Sweden, 13 April 1985 [Image: Hans Runesson].

In Australia, women conduct 72 per cent of unpaid work at an estimated $650.1 billion. In the UK, women’s unpaid work is estimated to cost £700 billion where men commit to only 16 hours a week of domestic duties and childcare compared to women’s 26 hours per week. 26 to 36-year-old women conduct the most unpaid labour (34.60 hours pw), the years crucially designed for career-building and exploring job prospects.

The baggage continues to be offloaded onto women as a consequence of entrenched and outdated gender roles. Women are apparently destined by some invisible, biological and quintessential force to submit, child-rear and nest their homes like mice. Women are expected to give up their jobs, work part-time or magically shapeshift to cater to the demands of others. Those who break free from the mould are excessively scrutinised and frowned upon, shamed as bad mothers, unsatisfying wives or ungrateful daughters. 

Women are apparently destined by some invisible, biological and quintessential force to submit, child-rear and nest their homes like mice

Inevitably, where sex inequality and poverty lines are starkest, so are such statistics. Oxfam India found Indian women spend almost 6 hours every day labouring in the home compared to 52 minutes by men, entrenching a gender disparity that sees men’s social status unrivalled and women’s unequal.

International Woman's Day Indian women
In poorer regions, women are expected to fulfil all household duties including fetching wood, dung and water which starts from the crack of dawn until late at night. [Image: Teriin].

Where water and firewood are required, girls between the age of 5 and 14 spend 40 per cent more of their time collecting it than boys – a percentage which increases as the girls grow older. Women in sub-Saharan Africa spend 16 million more hours a day collecting water.  

Feminist researchers have hollered about this issue for decades. While the 1970s saw activists demands of ‘wages for housework’ translate into some forms of paid care, the current UK Government continues to roll back the clock and seize women back into a cycle of poverty that prevents them from penetrating into the top.

girls carry water on International Woman's Day
Access to water is a woman’s right: young, pregnant, elderly and mothers with small children are expected to carry water to their homes. Pictured are two Ethiopian girls fetching the water. [Image: WaterdotorgCC BY-NC-SA /The Conversation].

The recent move to eliminate reliance on migrant care workers in the 2021 immigration rules is a double-edged sword in this respect. On the one hand, it halts reliance on low-paid migration where impoverished women are taken from their own families to toil away and meet the needs of British workers. But, on the other, UK women will be expected to retreat out of the workplace and into the home to fill the void – for free – since the Home Office remains indifferent to increasing rates of pay or putting the necessary structures in place for full state-supported care.

It cannot be that for women to leg-up and peep above the parapet to compete with men in the workplace that she needs a migrant woman’s back as her footstool at home to do so

Improving the UK care sector is an integral cog within the feminist agenda for this reason: it cannot be that for women to leg-up and peep above the parapet to compete with men in the workplace that she needs a migrant woman’s back as her footstool at home to do so.

international woman's day and wages for housework
The ‘wages for housework’ movement captured in 1977 in New York. [Image: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute / Bettye Lane/The Nation.]

Even so, people still interpret women in such roles as an indicator of their choice; that women just-so-happen to pick the unpaid and low-paid, back-breaking, dangerous and insecure jobs. But the reality is that the current working model of long hours for leadership and higher-paid positions, frankly, only works for men.

For as long as 1 in 3 requests for people to work flexibly are turned down, women will be unable to break the glass ceiling into senior positions and will be left with the slim pickings of insecure work

To propel women’s participation forward in higher-paid jobs, workplaces need to become flexible to accommodate both mothers’ and fathers’ childcaring responsibilities – and fathers need to share the load. This is particularly pertinent for single mothers since they make up 90 per cent of all UK single parents but are starved out of senior positions as they curb working hours to care for their children. The catch-22 is that few workplaces are flexible to cater to this need, so women are ‘choose’ from bottom-of-the-barrel jobs. It doesn’t help that childcare fees have risen four times faster than wages since 2008.

For as long as 1 in 3 requests for people to work flexibly are turned down, women will be unable to break the glass ceiling into senior positions and will be left with the slim pickings of insecure work.

Women just-so-happen to pick the unpaid and low-paid, back-breaking, dangerous and insecure jobs

The scales clearly still disproportionately tilt in the favour as men all around the world. If this imbalance is allowed to continue, the prison of patriarchy will keep women caged as domestic slaves where they are backed into a corner of ‘would you rather’ Russian-roulette-type choices.

“Being female in this world means having been robbed from the potential for human choice by men who love to hate us […]

Men too make choices. When will they choose not to despise us?” 

Andrea Dworkin

This International Women’s Day and all year round, demand the gag from women’s mouths be removed so that they can speak. Fight for women-only shortlists, free childcare facilities, free speech, flexible work and equal parental leave. Disrupt the male safe haven where, for too long, they have comfortably sat on their pedestals to turn a blind eye to their comrades who murder, rape and maim women.

International Woman's Day shows woman protesting on the floor
A woman blocks riot police in Seoul, South Korea 2015, to protect the protesters. [Image: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images]

Disrupt the male safe haven where for too long they have comfortably sat on their pedestals to turn a blind eye to their comrades who murder and maim women

Refuse to claw at the bottom of the ladder – if not for yourselves or the generations of women yet to come, then in sisterhood solidarity with women across the pond. Take no prisoners and shelve ‘being nice and kind’ to the pantry where it can grow old with neglect, mold and rot.

Join this universal movement that transcends class, race, wealth, nationality, politics and faith. If this viral video of a Mexican mother whose daughter was murdered doesn’t keep you perpetually pissed off, then “do not get in our way”, so she says.

[Header image:Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images/Girls’ Globe].

Written by
Olivia Bridge
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