2018 marks 100 years since women were given the right to vote in the UK. Although the result of decades of struggles, inequality and restless fighting, The Representation of the People Bill was a muted triumph for women. The act was the first to ever add all men over the age of 21 to the electoral register, while giving only women over the age of 30 who held £5 of property the right to participate in political decision making.
Great strides have been made since 1918 towards achieving equality for women, and women’s rights are high on the agenda for governmental and non governmental bodies all over the world. With movements such as #MeToo and Time’s up shining the light on issues such as sexual violence and workplace inequality, meaningful change seems to be finally happening. On International Women’s Day, we celebrate the social, economical, cultural and political achievement of women everywhere. However, women and girls all over the world suffer every day due to gender inequality and discrimination, which significantly affects their health, wellbeing and opportunities.
1.The pay gap
It’s old news that women get paid less to do the same job than their male counterparts, however the scale of the issue remains unfamiliar to many. According to the World Economic Forum, the workplace economic gap could take 217 years to close, while the global gender gap will take around 100 years to close at the current rate of change. The reasons behind these gaps are complex: from women being less likely to be in high earning senior positions and more likely to work in low paid industries such as garment making, to conscious or unconscious employer bias.
In the UK, the gender pay gap is currently at 17% and if it was to be closed, women could collectively earn a whooping £90bn more every year. Britain is also amongst the worst performing European countries in the Gender Equality Index, with little progress being made towards equality since 2007. In the US, things are not looking much better: although they hold almost 52% of all professional-level jobs, women in full time employment are paid 77 cents to a dollar when compared to their male counterparts. Additionally, Latina women earn 56 cents and African-American women earn 64 cents for every dollar earned by a white man.
2.Women in leadership
The progress towards achieving equality and fair representation at leadership levels throughout the world has been very, very slow. The figures speak for themselves: as of June 2016, only 22.8% of all national parliamentarians were women, a small 11% increase since 1995. According to UN women, in October 2017 only 11 women were serving as Head of States and 12 as Head of Government. At a global level, there are 38 countries where women make up for less than 10% of members of Parliament. In fact, there are only 2 countries in the world that have 50% or more women in Parliament: Rwanda (61.3%) and Bolivia (53.1%).
The women leadership gap goes beyond political representation. For example, in the US, where woman make up 50.8% of the population, 43% of the 150 highest-earning companies in Silicon Valley have no female executives at all. As for the UK, in 2016 women held only 21% of senior management roles (down by 1% since 2015) and 36% of businesses had no women in senior management.
Reproductive rights are fundamental for women and girls all around the world. Women should be able to have ownership over their own bodies, access health services whenever needed and make their own decisions regarding sex and motherhood. Despite this, the status of girls and women’s sexual and reproductive rights is deeply shocking. Worldwide, 800 women die daily from preventable causes related to childbirth of pregnancy, over 250 million women lack access to contraception and in 40% of UN member countries consensual same sex relationships constitute a criminal offence.
Moreover, millions of girls across the globe face discrimination, drop out of education and become severely ill due to a natural physiological process: menstruation. It is estimated that 77% of girls in Niger and 83% of girls in Burkina Faso have nowhere to change their sanitary products in school. In Kenya, girls miss an average of 4.9 school days a month because of their periods and 65% of women and girls cannot afford sanitary products. In India, 70% of all reproductive diseases are caused by inadequate menstrual hygiene.
It is important to note that reproductive rights affect women everywhere and not only in developing countries. For example, only recently tens of thousands of Polish women took to the streets to protest government attempts to further restrict access to abortion (abortion in Poland is legal only in cases of rape, when the fetus is irreparably damaged or when the mother’s life is at risk).
To find more about women’s reproductive rights, head to the Global Fund for Women website https://www.globalfundforwomen.org/
4.Access to education
With household names such as Rihanna and Malala Yousafzai championing girls’ education, the inequalities women and girls face when accessing education are becoming visible in popular culture However, the issue is nowhere near being solved. UNESCO estimated that worldwide, 130 million girls between 5-17 years old are out of school and a further 15 million girls of primary school age will never enrol in education.
The barriers that stop girls from accessing education are many, poverty, violence and cultural norms ranking high amongst them. Child marriage is another difficult challenge when trying to achieve equal rights to education. Recent studies estimate that every day, over 41 000 girls under the age of 18 get married around the globe. According to World Bank, child brides are more likely to drop out of school than their peers who marry older- this of course impacts on their ability to earn a living but also affects the health and education of their children.
The evidence for investing in girls’ education if overwhelming and hard to ignore. Girls who attended school are a lot less likely to contact HIV, do not marry at an young age and usually have healthier children. Moreover, the Brooklyn Institute named secondary schooling for girls the most cost effective investment against climate change. And let’s not forget that educating girls significantly helps the economy: if all girls went to school for 12 years, countries could add up to £92 billion dollars per year to their economies.
Join Plan International’s Movement for Girl Rights here https://plan-international.org/join-girls-movement
There are an estimated 137,000 women and girls affected by FGM in England and Wales
FGM stands for Female Genital Mutilation, which is described by the NHS as ‘a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but where there’s no medical reason for this to be done’. It is sometimes referred to as cutting or female circumcision. Female Genital Mutilation is a human rights violation and it is usually carried out on girls between infancy and 15 years old. It is an incredibly painful procedure and it can lead to serious long term health problems (including mental health), as well as death.
Worldwide, over 200 million girls have been victims of FGM in 30 countries in across Africa, the Middle East and Asia. In the UK, although FGM has been made illegal in 1985, in England and Wales alone an estimated 137,000 women and girls have already undergone the procedure. Despite this, there has been no court convictions since 1985.
In 2016, Nottingham became the first City in the UK to take a zero-tolerance stance on Female Genital Mutilation.The campaign was led by our friends from Mojatu Foundation- have a look at their great work here Have a look at the great work http://www.mojatufoundation.org/
Women also face great inequalities in industries such as hospitality, tech, arts and culture and entertainment. Have a look at Stacy Smith’s talk about sexism and lack of representation in Hollywood films below
Although a lot needs to happen to achieve gender equality around the world, let’s not forget about the remarkable achievements of women throughout history, from gaining political rights to Marie Curie’s Nobel Prize in 1903 and Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic (read more about it here).