Around this time of year, the internet talks a lot about women. Thankfully it’s mostly messages of positivity, celebrating how far we’ve come and shedding light on the issues that we still face. But still you come across the odd tweet that rains on our parade, the Facebook comment that asks the same old question: What’s the point of International Women’s Day? (This is usually followed up by: Why isn’t there an International Men’s Day? There is one, it’s in November, calm down.) But while this question doesn’t tend to come from a place of general inquisitiveness and willingness to learn, I think it’s a good point to raise; what actually is the point of International Women’s Day?
This week, in honour of International Women’s Day, my workplace put posters up around the office extolling the women’s movements throughout history that have fought for change. For example, the first poster was about Emma Paterson who, in 1874, founded the Women’s Trade Union League; an organisation whose members became the first women to attend the Trades Union Congress and argue against barriers to female employment. It was a monumental achievement at a time when being a woman and being heard was far harder than it is today, but what struck me about these posters wasn’t so much the huge achievements they depicted; it was how most of them happened way more recently than 1874.
Up until 1970 it was legal for women to be paid less for doing the same work as a man. It wasn’t until 1975 that it became illegal to discriminate against women on the grounds of sex or marital status. That’s surprisingly recent enough, but the next poster showed that women didn’t gain the right to paid maternity leave until 1994 – that was in my lifetime. I don’t feel like I grew up in an age of gender discrimination – I saw working women on 90s TV all the time – but if Ros from Frasier had wanted to take time off work to have a baby, she actually could have been fired.
It’s amazing how quickly we forget the way things were and get used to the way things are now. And this is why I think some people can’t get their heads around International Women’s Day; things are mostly OK. We can vote now, we can have time off to pop out a kid, so what are all these left-wing broads whining about? Because we’ve come a long way – but that doesn’t mean we still don’t have a long way to go.
Yes it became illegal in 1970 to pay women less than a man for the same work, but the gender pay gap still exists. Yes it’s illegal to discriminate against women for employment or services or anything else, but there is still a disparity between men and women in certain roles and industries. These things may not be down to downright discrimination, but that gap is there for a reason and those reasons should be explored and talked about. And let’s not forget that this is International Women’s Day, and all over the world women don’t have even the level of equal rights and opportunities that women have in the UK. That needs to be addressed, there is still way more room for improvement.
So whatever your sex or gender may be, let’s do International Women’s Day right. Let’s drop the negativity and ambivalence and start a positive conversation for change. Let’s get behind this day and press forward together, celebrating how far we’ve come and working together to get where we need to go. And, especially as Mothers’ Day is just around the corner, let’s celebrate the all of the absolute queens in our lives who inspire us, who go before us and who come alongside us and make us stronger.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti