Why I like International Women’s Day.

International Women's Day logo


I’ve seen a range of grumbling on Twitter today from chaps who think International Women’s Day is inherently unfair and not doing anything for equality. So, I thought I’d post some interesting titbits.

1) There is an International Men’s Day on the 19th November. As there should be. Men have plenty of gender-based issues that should be given more public awareness – things like childcare inequality, value within a family unit and men’s health issues to name just a few.

2) International means just that. While you may see your female co-worker doing exactly the same job as you and wonder what the fuss is about, Plan UK highlights the inequality for girls the world over, with their campaign Because I Am A Girl. Forced marriage, no access to education, childbirth while still a child and female genital mutilation is a reality for millions of young girls. Feel free to sponsor a kid to help them out of that situation. Plan will help you select an area of the world and the gender and age of your sponsor child if you like. This isn’t to say bad things don’t happen to boys, of course they do. But girls are traditionally less-valued than boys and are more likely to die before they reach their fifth birthday in many communities. They are often seen as a commodity to be traded, rather than people. And helping girls in this situation is actually the key to helping boys too. By educating young girls, they are more likely to remain healthy, will marry at a later age and for every year they are in education they are likely to increase their earning capabilities to pull themselves and their families (including their sons) out of poverty. Those sons will come to respect women, and will break the chain for their own wives and daughters. According to Plan UK, 75 million girls worldwide are missing out on this opportunity.

3) Of course, it isn’t all roses in the garden back home either. This Sunday, Celibate men will use their pulpit to decree gynecological health care cover for women to be a sin. This reinforces the message that sex is only for within marriage, and marriage is only for making babies, and that none of this ever requires any sort of medical assistance. (For those of you still wondering if there is a gender neutral campaign to support, you could do worse than to examine the Catholic Church’s stance on the abuse of children within its care. Systematic and Industrial Scale are two phrases that spring to mind. But women wanting to opt out of babies. That’s the worst.) Access to advice on reproductive issues, abortion and contraception is increasingly under fire for reasons of religious dogma and cost-cutting.

4) Contraception issues leads me in a round about way to the thorny issue of child care. Did you know, in the UK a chauffeured car is a business expense but child care is not (outside of the fundamentally flawed voucher scheme)? I can tell you from experience this makes running any kind of business hideously expensive. Most of my money goes on childcare. Without access to contraception, I’d have several more children by now (assuming my fertility holds up) and I’d be at home, unable to work because the cost of childcare would be too great – and frankly, I’d be too knackered. Sex is the glue that holds relationships together (sorry if that’s, er, too visceral an image). Those relationships are often what support a happy family life. If a family choose to have lots of kids and one, or other, parents wants to stay at home that is *fabulous* – but that’s a choice. Not because of a dictat from men who have forgotten about women.

5) The recent round of cuts in the UK impacts on women disproportionately, often because women are more likely to work part-time, contract or on lower-wage jobs around childcare, so much so the Fawcett Society launched a legal contest in the High Court. (If you don’t have children, ask yourself – do you know what to do with a 5 year old for six weeks in the summer if you’re needed at the office everyday? Nurseries are for up to 5. Summer schools are usually for only a week or two and not all kids are suited to them. People live further away from families now to be close to their jobs. The only option is to drop out of the career circuit and take a job with some flexibility – McDonalds is meant to be excellent for its flexible working policies. Yup, I wrinkled my nose too but those kids aren’t going to disappear.) I’m lucky to have work that means I can be flexible. And by flexible, I mean I can piss off a certain number of clients by saying ‘sorry, I’m not available for six weeks’ and hope they come back to me in the future, oh and also out of pocket for a month and a half.

6) And let’s just go back to your female co-worker, doing the same role as you chaps, there is an excellent chance she is on up to 20% less than you. There is some hope: in the UK, women in their 20’s are earning around 3.6% more than their male counterparts but if you account for money lost to maternity leave (women are likely to be the primary caregivers) or to being someone’s carer (ditto), she will likely earn significantly less across the course of her working life. Not least because a spot in the boardroom is still pretty unlikely for her, so much so the EU is planning to intervene to much ire from the business community. Interestingly, this was introduced in Norway and found to make for better business, as found by Agnes Bolsø’s independent research.

These are not exclusively women’s issues but they are all issues that impact on women, often disproportionately. Even if we only have one day a year in which the media, social networks, and you and I discuss them the impact of that is not to be undervalued. That’s why I like International Women’s Day.