Today is International Women’s Day. Every year on March 8, women’s economic, political, and social achievements are celebrated around the world. The first observance was held in New York in 1909, organized by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. The United Nations declared it a holiday in 1977.
Over the past 107 years, women in the United States have made incredible strides, gaining the right to vote, serving in political office, earning more college degrees than men, and even living longer (on average) than men. Yet, these achievements are only one piece of a complex puzzle and simply aren’t the experience for many women in America and more so around the globe.
This year’s theme “Make It Happen” could not be more relevant because the push for full equality can no longer be a simple awareness campaign. We’ve been promoting awareness for centuries. The time has come to measure our progress and refuse to accept anything but full equality in every sense of the word. Here’s why:
Approximately 57.2 percent of women participate in the labor force compared to 69.7 percent of men. Women earn 78 cents for every dollar men earn in the U.S and this gap is even wider for women of color. This is true in nearly every occupation, even those that have historically been dominated by women. The U.S. is the only developed country without guaranteed paid sick days for workers, and this burden falls more heavily on women who take more time off to take care of others. Median annual earnings of women in the U.S. is $39,157 versus $50,033 for men. The Fortune 500 list of chief executives includes 25 women which means that only five percent of the most powerful positions in the nation are held by women. In terms of all management positions, women fill 13.6 percent.
There were 10.9 million women enrolled in undergraduate and graduate school in 2013 and women comprised 56.2 percent of all college students. Approximately 32 percent of women 25 and older have obtained a bachelor’s degree. This progress is exceptional, however it’s simply not translating into equality in the workplace.
Women do the majority of housework, spending one to three more hours a day on these tasks than men. They also spend two to ten times the amount of time caring for loved ones (children, elderly, and the sick). These factors negatively impact women’s participation in the labor force. More women around the world also work in vulnerable, low-paid, and undervalued jobs.
Women make up about 20 percent of the U.S. House and Senate and 22 percent of parliamentary positions around the world. Ten women serve as Heads of State and 14 as Heads of Government. Fewer than 40 women have been U.S. Governors and 24 states have never elected a woman to that position. The U.S. ranks 60th globally in women’s political empowerment.
Violence Against Women
Studies have shown that 35 percent of women around the world have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence. However, that that number is likely closer to 70 percent of women because most cases of violence go unreported.
This list could go on with accounts of women who are bullied, belittled, and berated for a host of reasons ranging from impossible standards of beauty to the notion that women should be able to somehow “have it all.” I’ve yet to meet a woman who hasn’t experienced some form of discrimination or unequal treatment stemming from her gender.
I hope we all take this year’s IWD theme to heart and take actionable steps to indeed make it happen. Whether we advocate for ourselves in our own personal and professional life, support a friend, take on a mentoring role, or advocate in state legislatures or Congress on issues that impact all women, 2015 is the year that we say enough is enough.
Photo Credit: Library of Congress