By Saskia Harper
Every year, the 8th of March marks International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrating the successes of the women’s rights movement to date, while remembering how far we still have to go to truly achieve gender equality.
When you look back at the strides we’ve made towards gender equality, the difference is staggering: just 100 years ago, the majority of women in the UK couldn’t vote; today 34% of MPs are women, with inspiring voices such as Diane Abbott and Nadia Whittome acting as beacons of hope and change.
It’s important to celebrate how far we’ve come and the impact that the women’s rights movement has had globally. However, it would be naïve to think that we have completely eradicated gender inequality. To do so erases the struggles of many still victimised by sexism. Clearly, we still have a long way to go.
Issues such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation are faced by young women and girls all over the world. Women are more likely to be the victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault, however the conviction rate in Scottish sexual assault cases reached its lowest level in a decade in 2020.
Many women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts at work, and are additionally more likely to be the primary carers of children and elderly or sick relatives, carrying out hours of unpaid labour on top of their professional responsibilities.
Women are also far more likely to be victims and survivors of domestic abuse, making up 82% of victims who reported in 2017-18.
Safe and legal access to abortion is limited to only certain circumstances in many countries or outlawed altogether. Egypt, Iraq and Honduras are a few of the countries where it is completely prohibited, with Poland and parts of the USA having some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the western world.
Issues such as birth control, menstruation and the menopause continue to have a stigma attached to them, deemed taboo subjects that should not be discussed openly. Period poverty still affects one in 10 girls in the UK, leading to many missing school because they cannot afford sanitary products.
Women whose identities intersect with other inequalities are also more likely to face discrimination, including but not limited to ethnic minority women, lesbian and bisexual women, trans women, disabled women and working class women. Going forward, it would be useful to see IWD recognise this and place more emphasis on supporting women who face greater barriers based on discrimination against race, religion, sexuality, gender identity and more.
Of course, we cannot compound all our efforts, campaigning and fighting for justice into a single day. But IWD shines a spotlight on issues that can often fall under the radar, drawing them into mainstream attention and providing a place for people to begin their learning and understanding of gender inequality.
Celebrating IWD every year sends an important message that while we continue to celebrate the progress we have made as a society towards gender equality, our fight is not over. Until all genders are treated equally, and even beyond, International Women’s Day will continue to be a key pillar in the women’s rights calendar.