On the 8th March every year, International Women’s Day is celebrated worldwide. This United Nations observance, which dates all the way back to 1909 (though recognised globally since 1975), celebrates the women who have fought for gender equality, and reminds us of how far we have come since the suffrage movement at the beginning of the twentieth century.
However, to me, International Women’s Day is all about highlighting the struggles women and girls continue to endure today. It is a reminder that we are yet to obtain total equality. Needless to say, we have come far in the last century, but there is still a long road ahead.
As many people will be aware, gender-inequality is one of the primary reasons for the ongoing UCU strikes, as here at Newcastle University there is a startling 17% pay gap between male and female members of staff. This is the case in countless places of work across the country and I, like so many others, am furious that this kind of injustice and discrimination is still occurring today. However, it is International Women’s Day that is approaching. We must address and take action against the gender inequality that is occurring across the globe, and not just on our doorsteps.
Women in Saudi Arabia were only granted the right to vote in 2015. And abortion was only legalised in Northern Ireland a mere few months ago
It is important to remember the advances women have made across the world in recent years, however these achievements also remind us that gender-discrimination is not a thing of the distant past. Women in Saudi Arabia were only granted the right to vote in 2015. And abortion was only legalised in Northern Ireland a mere few months ago, in October 2019, along with same-sex marriage. Of course, these are wonderful achievements of recent years, and a cause for celebration, but it is a terrifying thought that these human rights were still in dispute and not simply a given. And these matters are still not fully resolved globally.
In a great many countries, abortion is still illegal, and worryingly, child marriage is legal in many countries, with the legal marital age for girls in Sudan, for example, being just ten years old (compared to fifteen for boys). Millions of girls worldwide are forced to marry before the age of eighteen, and often to much older men, who they have not previously met. These are issues that we are yet to tackle and must remember this International Women’s Day.
Sexual violence is also a major issue for women across the globe. A staggering 15 million girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide have experienced forced sexual activity, of which only 1% sought professional help. And at least 200 million women and girls between the ages 15 and 49 have undergone genital mutilation, often before the age of five. Further frightening statistics are that 20% of women in the UK have experienced sexual assault since the age of 16, and 31% of women currently aged between 16 and 24 are reported to have suffered sexual abuse in childhood.
A staggering 15 million girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide have experienced forced sexual activity
The theme of International Women’s Day 2020 is “I am generation equality: Realising Women’s Rights”. It is all about recognising the work that is yet to be done to achieve gender equality and making plans to tackle the continued suffering of women across the globe. If you can read the above statistics and still believe that gender-inequality is a non-issue in the twenty-first century, then you need to wake up. Please, celebrate the progress we have made over the past century. But do not forget the discrimination and abuse women across the globe suffer every single day. We are still a long way off gender equality. The fight continues.
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Last modified: 26th February 2020