“The world is female.” One of the many placards held up on Sunday as women across the globe marched together for gender equality, an end to female violence and simply in celebration of us – as women – collectively making a difference. It made me smile. Imagine if this were the case. Imagine if the gender balance in industry sat with women, that it was in fact men who were stuck in disproportionately lower-paid occupations, juggling part time and shift work around childcare, or having to work twice as hard to achieve their successes and even harder to maintain them.
Would they march for equality and rage against sexism? Would they negotiate with compassion, strive to empower men around them, and feel the unfairness of a misguided belief that our differences lie in fixed gender traits rather than circumstance? Of course we will never know because history has dictated otherwise. The world isn’t female, but nor would we want it to be. Our conflict is about gender equality, empowering ourselves and supporting the women around us.
What I find interesting is that when you go back over the centuries it’s hard to understand why we are still fighting this battle. There has been a significant number of outstandingly successful, powerful women – women who challenged the political landscape as leaders or whose achievements shaped the course of history with their strength, determination and passion. Literature is littered with phenomenal female writers whose societal and political observations enlightened the women of their time and paved the way for feminist thinking today. Coco Channel revolutionised fashion. Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden pioneered the beauty industry.
All of these women demonstrate the exceptional power of female achievement, and yet here we are in 2020 celebrating another International Woman’s Day with gender equality and rights for women STILL the core issues for change. It doesn’t seem logical somehow when we have these women as proof that, given the same platform as our male counterparts, “an equal world is an enabled world”. And it’s not for the want of trying. I have friends and women I know who have established innovative and successful businesses. They are intelligent and hardworking women in the same world as intelligent, hardworking men. The difference is that many of these women have accomplished this alongside raising a family and running a home – working twice as hard to prove their ability.
There are women in all areas of industry who are paid significantly less for the same job as their male colleagues. Men are more likely to hold the most senior positions in top firms. Care work, retail and administrationare still predominantly female occupations. Many women across the UK are stuck in low-paid jobs earning less than the Living Wage. There are women who are forced to do part time or shift work in order to manage their families because flexible working isn’t offered as an option. It seems that – despite the fact that we are able to speak out now, to campaign for what is fair and to be seen and heard – change is still slow.
International Woman’s Day still has a long way to go, but perhaps the way forward for us is to ensure that the young girls of today can follow by our example – and take on the baton. Writing for Time Magazine to commemorate International Woman’s Day, Angelina Jolie focussed on younger girls in today’s society. After two of her daughters recently underwent surgery she was struck by their care and attention to each other that came so naturally. She said: “The little girl is expected to take care of others. The woman she grows up to be will be expected to give, and care for, and sacrifice.”
Today we have young women like Malala Yousafzai speaking out about education and rights for girls in Pakistan, and young girls like Greta Thunberg as a powerful global voice for climate change, both emerging as warriors for their cause and who will also go on to influence the course of history. In Angelina Jolie’s words as she concluded her article: “… my message to girls is, fight on, little ladies. Your care for each other will be a large part of your way forward. Hold your nerve. Know your rights. And never let anyone tell you that you are not precious and special and, above all, equal.” Sums it all up perfectly.