Women have come a long way since the Suffragette Movement in the early 1900s. Is a day dedicated to female empowerment still necessary in the 21st century?
Next week marks the 108th International Women’s Day, where women and men around the world will celebrate female empowerment. This year, along with International Women’s Day events such as all-female business panels, talks, and even a London based Women’s run, a Women’s Day Off strike is planned.
Yet, some critics claim that a day honouring women has become obsolete. Have women’s rights come far enough to erase the need for marches and events?
The first International Women’s Day took place at the turn of the century, during a time when females had fewer employment options and were denied the right to vote. Disenfranchised by gender inequality, oppressed women came together to recognise the achievements of females in 1909. Since then, March 8th has symbolised the plight, power, and accomplishments of the working woman, and the hardships females have faced in the battle for equality.
While the circumstances of these female fighters may seem far in the past, Dr. Katy Turton, a leading expert in the field of revolutionary women, reminds us that women’s rights are far from universal. “Women have made phenomenal progress in the last century, but we have to acknowledge that improvements in women’s rights are not experienced by all women,” she told us.
“When my grandmother was a young girl, women didn’t have right to the vote,” says award-winning storyteller Danyah Miller, whose new play Perfectly Imperfect Women explores what drives women to want perfect lives. “[The right to vote] is so recent, so shocking. We have come a long way in this country, and yet there is so much more to achieve to change the culture of patriarchy.”
Women in the present day
100 years later, things may seem drastically different. In the majority of countries, women can vote. Females can hold high-powered jobs in corporations as well as in government, and most women now have the luxury of choosing their partners, male or female.
But in reality, women still do not stand on on equal footing. Misogyny is rife on the streets and in politics, and women’s rights are continuously under threat by extremist governments.
The day after President Trump’s inauguration, 3.2 million American women marched in defiance across the country. Protesting his misogynistic views, policies, and plans, the international demonstrations showcased a new tide of feminists, ready to battle.
“Times of political uncertainty and unrest certainly give women the opportunity to play a significant role in events,” writes Turton. “Often the ‘normal’ functioning of society is disrupted, freeing women to challenge and defy notions of gender.”
“On the other hand,” she continues, “it is not unusual in these times for the authorities or even those challenging the authorities to see women’s rights as less important than other matters. It is important that women continue to argue their case and champion their causes.”
Take, for instance, the gender pay gap. In 2016, it stood at 18.1 per cent, with full-time female workers making 9.4 per cent less than their male counterparts. Studies show that closing the gap could possibly take until the year 2186, which is 170 years from now, as feminist Vanessa Cain from Secret London Runs relays below.
At home, there is also still progress to be made. Living Without Abuse report that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, while 1 in 5 women aged 16-59 have experienced some form of sexual assault. In 2015, 15 million girls worldwide were forced into marriage, some as young as 8 years old.
“Although we might have achieved a great deal in terms of equality and parity with men, we are nowhere close to real non-discrimination or emancipation,” remarks Miller. “We have alarming and terrifying statistics at our fingertips which show the lack of equal opportunities for women at work and in the home.”
Criticism of International Women’s Day
But, not everybody approves of having a dedicated day to women’s rights. Mary Beard, who is an impassioned feminist and lecturer of classics at Oxford University said “I don’t think that international women’s day is important in itself. But it is a good prompt to action.”
The main limitation of International Women’s Day lies in its construct – it is only one day each year, and how much can really be achieved in just one day?
“International Women’s Day does play a useful role in focusing people’s minds on important issues and helping to raise awareness of the vast range of women’s activism,” says Dr. Katy Turton. “The key is to retain that focus after the events of the 8th March have finished and continue to promote women’s campaigns for the next 364 days until International Women’s Day comes round again.”
Mary Beard, also suggested that one of the main challenges is that “power is closely linked to masculinity” and that we require “stronger female role models” in order for women to feel they can achieve the leadership roles within society. This dilemma is not easily rectified within one appointed day of the year.
Similarly, Iranian film maker and activist Tina Gharavi voices her frustration with only having one day dedicated to females across the world:
The case for more leadership roles for women has been discussed for many years. In 2015, then UK Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to end gender inequality after statistics highlighted the harsh reality that the UK was falling far behind other European countries. They also found that politics is still dominated by men with women holding just over 20 per cent of parliamentary positions.
The Importance of March 8th
However, despite its apparent limitations many people believe that International Women’s Day is more necessary than ever within the current political climate. Performance poet, Megan Beech, believes that women are currently responding wholeheartedly in regards to the threat to their basic rights. “I feel that the new wave of marches is a really important thing. They do raise awareness and enable people to voice their dissent, gather strength from each other and feel united.”
She continues: “My hope is that as they say in Hamilton ‘This is not a moment, it’s the movement’. I hope people go out into communities and become activists, get involved in social action and strive to be as inclusive and intersectional as possible.”
Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society Chief Executive agrees: “Whilst gender inequality is something we battle every day, International Women’s Day marks a date on the calendar which brings people across the world together to stop, think, and confront the discrimination, harassment, violence and inequality that women face across the globe.”
In preparation for International Women’s Day, we approached women from across the country to find out what it means to them.
How will you be spending International Women’s Day? Let us know your thoughts on the matter!