In today’s rapidly changing world, it is absurd to think that you might have something in common with your great-grandmother. You, with your smartphone and short attention span, might think that your problems today are completely different from those she faced back in the beginning of 1900s. However, beneath the technological, political and social developments all those years brought, one thing stayed in full effect: gender inequality. That’s right, your great-grandmother was probably concerned about the wage gap, too. In fact, Women’s Day was first celebrated on 28th of February 1909 after female garment workers protested against working conditions in New York. Immediately the year after that, it was accepted by women from 17 countries as a movement to support universal suffrage of women. In 1975, United Nations (UN) began celebrating it on 8th of March, and International Women’s Day was born in the form that we celebrate today.
The year 2019 marks the “unofficial” 110th anniversary of the Women’s Day celebrations, which means that Women’s Day witnessed several generations striving for gender equality. A struggle that is 110-year-old is an awfully long one to not achieve anything. So, in order to make sense of today’s conditions, there is an important question that we should be asking ourselves: What have we achieved in all those years? Where are we now in terms of gender equality? Well, to briefly answer the latter: not where we should be.
According to UN Women reports, today women are noticeably under-represented in STEM branches and decision-making positions. On a global scale, only 23% of the world’s parliaments are women. When it comes to women in business, the situation is even more staggering: women make up only 4% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Instead, women dominate the health, education and service sectors where they mostly perform “lower-paid, lower-skill” jobs. The reason behind the occupational dichotomy is simpler than it looks: women are subjected to structural barriers and gender-based discrimination more frequently than men are. For example, factors such as limited or nonexistent access to childcare, inconvenient working hours or insufficient parental leave policies may be enough to drive women out of the business life or cause them to seek part-time, lower-paid jobs while they do not affect men with the same intensity. This phenomenon, better known as the “motherhood penalty” is most evident in African and South Asian countries, where women with children are paid 31% and 35% less than their male counterparts respectively.
With these structural barriers and gender-based discriminations in place, it is no surprise that women do not have a more substantial effect in the global value chain. From a general point of view, working in lower-paid jobs and performing subcontracted work with limited social protection, women play a distinctly secondary role in labor markets. As a matter of fact, UN Women findings reveal that if women were to play an identical role to men in labor markets, global annual GDP could have potentially increased by $28 trillion by 2025. Needless to say, this seems highly unlikely. Currently, women make 77 cents for every dollar men earn, a gap that is expected to close only in 70 years.
Still, was it all downhill from 1909? Have we not improved in some ways? We most certainly did, as a report released by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Clinton Foundation in 2015 makes clear. Looking at the last 20 years, the report states that the number of women holding political office, although still a minority, has almost doubled in the past 20 years only. This might be due to the fact that “almost all national constitutions” enacted from 1995 on contains gender equality guarantees, while only 79% of them included such insurance before 1995. For instance, in November
2018 elections in the United States, 117 women were selected into Congress, breaking a new record in nation’s history. Education also saw some improvements: primary school enrollment rate of girls is now nearly at the same level globally as that of boys. Moreover, since 1995, the average gender wage gap diminished from 28% to 20% in a total of 70 countries that include approximately one-third of world population. That is to say, although you are still concerned about the gender wage gap, your great-grandmother was far more concerned than you are.
Looking back at the first Women’s Day celebrations in 1909, it is more than likely that we are not where those women envisioned we would be today. Yet again, to say that those 110 years went to waste would be unfair to women who have been fighting for gender equality. The world is a more equal place today compared to even 20 years earlier, thanks to our grandmothers’ and mothers’ tireless struggle and dedication. Yes, we have still so much to do before we can say that we live in a fair and equal world. But we are getting there, one generation at a time. Sure, it may be a slow progress, but it is indeed a sure one.