International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day dedicated to celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women everywhere. Taking place on the 8th March each year, IWD calls together organisations, communities and individuals from all over the world to work as a collective body pushing for gender equality.
The last 100 years have brought huge advances for women and their place in British society. This year, we mark 100 years since some British women were the first in the UK to be awarded the vote and were able to stand as MPs. In 1928, women in Britain finally gained equal voting rights with men. After the widespread attention gained by striking Ford Factory machinists in Dagenham, who fought against their work being classed in a lower pay grade than men doing similarly skilled work, the Equal Pay Act of 1970 was introduced. In addition, we have seen more women break through into positions of power within education establishments, public sector institutions and the political arena, as well as receive prestigious accolades in the worlds of sport, music and film.
In the last year, the discussion on gender equality has been high on the international agenda. 2017 has seen more and more people able to speak out against inequality and exclusion and has seen the outstanding bravery of those women who chose to speak out and declare #metoo in a high-profile expose of sexual harassment in Hollywood and the workplace more generally (The Guardian, 2017).
However, there is still much work to be done. Sexual harassment in the workplace remains a major issue in all occupations, with 52% of women experiencing this in their careers (The Fawcett Society, 2017).
A recent study found that more than 500 companies still have a significant pay gap (BBC, 2018); on average women in full-time employment are paid 14.1% less than men (The Fawcett Society, 2017) Indeed, in a case that mirrors the struggles of the Ford Machinists nearly 50 years ago, female employees at Tesco are currently in the process of fighting for equal pay in court.
Sadly, gender inequalities start at a young age. Studies suggest gender stereotypes are formed between 5 and 7 years of age, no doubt a contributing factor to why girls are still less likely to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects at A Level (LSE, 2017) and why women hold just a sixth of senior roles at top UK companies (Financial Times, 2017). In addition, a third of female students at mixed-sex secondary schools have experienced sexual harassment. 64% of students are unsure of school policies and practices aimed at preventing sexism and only 22% of secondary school teachers have received training to promote gender equality and tackle sexism (NEU & UK Feminista, 2017).
Let us turn our attention to those fighting discrimination on more than one front. New research conducted by the Guardian and Operation Black Vote found that only 3.5% of the people at the top of the UK’s leading 1000+ organisations are from BAME backgrounds and of those, less than a quarter are women (The Guardian, 2017). Disabled women are 35% less likely to be in employment than disabled men, non-disabled men and non-disabled women (York University, 2007) and there are currently debates within the UK Labour party and many trade unions about trans women’s identities, and their inclusion on all-women shortlists and at all-women conferences.
Often, at the forefront of those debates and at the decision-making table, are the most privileged voices. Indeed, the conversation in 2018 is not yet completely intersectional – it is important therefore to work harder to ensure that BAME women, trans women, disabled women, women young and older, all women have their voices heard and true inclusivity is created.
Ultimately, it is estimated that at the current rate, it will be 217 years before complete gender equality is achieved worldwide (IWD.com). Fittingly therefore, the IWD campaign theme for 2018 is #pressforprogress. We’ve asked members of the EqualiTeach community – those we worked with, those who support the organisation, friends and family – to tell us exactly what ‘progress’ in the fight for gender equality means to them, and what their personal contribution will be towards closing the gap in 2018.
217 years to gender equality? Not if we can help it.