International Women's Day (IWD) was first celebrated in 1911, having been conceived at the International Conference of Working Women, held the previous year (although it wasn't celebrated by the United Nations until 1975). A lot has changed for women, in the UK at least, since then. We can vote, we can work, we can access the same quality of education as men, we can choose if and when we want to have children. In fact, we now don't even need a male partner in order to have children. So what is there to complain about and why should International Women's Day still exist?
In my opinion, we should continue to celebrate IWD because inequality still exists. Research by McKinsey shows that prior to the pandemic, the global progress towards gender equality had been marginal since 2015. Progress is progress nonetheless and according to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals we have until 2030 to achieve gender equality. There have been many things to celebrate as we were seeing global increases in literacy and secondary education enrolment, alongside decreases in maternal mortality rates and the gender pay gap. Then the pandemic hit.
There's no doubt that everyone has been affected by the pandemic. Lockdown has had severely negative impacts on both the economy and people's physical and mental wellbeing. However, reports have shown that women have been disproportionately affected. In the UK, lockdowns led to school and day care closures, a mass move to home working, business shutdowns and forced isolation. These resulted in an increase in domestic duties and care giving responsibilities (childcare and care of elderly or sick relatives). Consequently, women have found themselves doing even more unpaid work than usual. You might imagine that in mixed sex, two parent households, the load would be shared. However, research from the BBC shows that women are still bearing the brunt of the additional responsibilities; family systems have regressed.
In addition, more women than men work in sectors that have suffered job losses and earning cuts, and mothers have been more likely to lose or quit their jobs than fathers since lockdown began. Women are being left economically vulnerable. The Centre for Women's Justice also highlights the huge increase in domestic abuse towards women, with a 49% rise in calls to domestic abuse services during the first month of lockdown 1.0. Statistics such as this led the government to ease stay at home restrictions for anyone experiencing domestic abuse.
The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities and led to fears that we are experiencing a huge setback in achieving gender parity. We still don't know what the post-pandemic world will look like, but we can use this opportunity, as we rebuild, to challenge inequality and make a society that has the potential to be equal for all.
Not only was it IWD this week, but it's also Women's History Month; to mark this occasion we've launched "Tales from Covid: A Women's History Month Project". We're inviting women from across the UK to share their experience of the pandemic and record this moment in history. How has the pandemic affected women's work and families? What challenges have been faced? What lessons have been learnt? What positives have come from it? We want to hear from cis women, trans women and non-binary people; women of different ages and from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds in order to build a rich and representative narrative of women's experience of Covid-19. If you would like to get involved and share your story (either publicly or anonymously) you can do so here.
If you would prefer to share your experience in audio, please send your recording to Daisy, at firstname.lastname@example.org.