International women’s day: why it still matters!

Celebrations of international women’s day started in the early 1900s as a protest against working conditions of women in textile factories. March 8th became internationally recognised as women’s day in 1975, following the UN campaign for the International Women’s Year.

 It is interesting to follow some of the contributions and views expressed on Twitter about International Women’s day. Many (women) using the opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements, whilst others lamenting the need for “real” equality and highlighting the difficult conditions for women in the Global South. These are all useful and welcome contributions to current debates about gender equality. There are however a few, less constructive, contributions to the discussion that highlight the entrenched nature of sexism and the need for feminist campaigning to continue.

It is important to recognise the many advances in women’s employment and political rights over the last thirty years, yet only small steps have been taken towards achieving substantive equality. The Fawcett’s campaign to increase women’s representation in politics, as well as to raise awareness about the gendered impact of austerity measures highlight the unstable foundations upon which many of our advances have been based on. If we take austerity as an example it is clear that women’s voices (and roles in society) are still seen as marginal and expandable.

International Women’s Day recognises that for women to achieve substantive equality and change the political/policy agenda, we have to be involved in the public sphere, either through the world of work or politics. That said, this is not enough to promote enduring change. Recognition of women’s (increasing) double burden, marked by the substantial increase in female participation in the employment market whist still carrying out most of the unpaid work in the home, only leads to more strain on carers’ (emotional) time.

The question that we need to ask is how we can achieve long term change. We must start by recognising that women’s under representation in politics is not just a fact of life, but a visible confirmation that socio-economic and political structures are biased and unfair. At the same time, issues such as shifting patterns of work, changing norms around masculinity as well as affordable and easily available childcare and care for the elderly, need to find a higher place on the policy agenda. Surely, these must be the very foundations for achieving substantive equality.

Happy International Women’s Day.