Every year on the 8th of March, people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). IWD was birthed in the early 1900s in America, from a place of dissatisfaction with the status of women; when women couldn’t vote and were required to work long hours in dangerous conditions for minimum pay. IWD exists to celebrate the achievements of women around the world, while simultaneously recognising that we still have a long way to go before we achieve equality.
And we still have a long way to go. There is a myth that we have achieved gender equality. Australia has paid maternity leave; women can vote and are eligible to apply for a multitude of jobs and degrees; women are contributing members of our society and culture; we have anti-discrimination and harassment laws. There is a temptation to think that we don’t need International Women’s Day because women have it alright it Australia. While there have been significant achievements for women in Australia, research suggests that women continue to experience discrimination and poverty. According to the Poverty in Australia 2014 report, women have a higher chance of experiencing poverty - in 2011-2012 14.9% of women were living in poverty (compared to 13% of men). Women have a higher risk of experiencing violence at the hands of a partner – 29% of women have experienced violence by means of a man since the age of 15 (ABS, 2013). Senior management and governing bodies of Australian companies are dominated by males and female graduates will earn less than males.
Disadvantage in the workplace, inadequate distribution of resources and adhering to strict gender roles mean that women continue to experience discrimination and violence in Australia. Some of this inequality is passive and hidden in the systems and attitudes that govern Australia. While others such as physical violence, are social norms that the majority of society would consider unacceptable.
Yes, these issues affect men as well – and if we want to eradicate inequality we must address these concerns and their impact on all individuals. However, it is important to note there is a disproportionate amount of women experiencing discrimination, oppression and poverty.
Likewise, gender equality and the empowerment of women is a goal yet to be reached worldwide. According to the International Women’s Development Fund, 73% of countries do not have a law again husband’s raping their wives. Over 500 000 women and girls die each year due to complications during or after childbirth, and modern slavery embraces the idea that women are commodities, available for purchase and profit. Additionally, the majority of people living in poverty are women.
IWD is an important day to acknowledge the women who have gone before us and the equality they have accomplished. It is also an important date to acknowledge all that we have ahead of us in the goal of equality. It is a day we can use to hear the stories of women all over the world, as well as our neighbours in Australia. It is a day we can use to bring awareness to the fact that we still have not achieved equality for women.
Amanda works for The Salvation Army Social Justice Department and is currently completing her Master in Development specialising in gender.