Whatever glory belongs to the race for a development unprecedented in history for the given length of time, a full share belongs to the womanhood of the race.—Mary Mcleod Bethune
Today is International Women’s Day. I know that because Facebook slapped me in the face with that notification first thing this morning before I’d even started making coffee. Across the Internet and around the world, today is full of speeches and celebrations for and about women, all of which are designed to be empowering, encouraging, and supportive. Despite all our improvements and advances in society, there is still no place on earth where women are truly treated as equals and given the full amount of respect they deserve.
Statistics time. Here’s what women are up against:
- Hispanic/Latina women were paid only 54% of what men were, for the same work, in 2013
- Globally, the United States ranks 60th in women’s political empowerment
- In the United States alone, despite recent advances, 22 million women still don’t have paid sick leave
- State legislatures continually introduce hundreds of bills limiting what women can do with their bodies, versus none for men
- Roughly a third of the population in the US and Europe still mistakenly believe that women should be held partially responsible for violent acts against them, such as rape.
- Women who work, with or without children, spend an average 15 additional hours doing chores around the house versus five hours for men
- Internationally, twice as many girls as boys will never start school, ever
- 70% of illiterate adults, globally, are women
- Women account for two-thirds of people living in extreme poverty
- One in four women are victims of domestic violence
- One of every six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime
- The United States still refuses to sign the International Bill of Rights for Women; they are the only major world power who had not done so
Women’s issues aren’t always about poverty, abuse, and access to opportunities, though. Within the past 24 hours, the following stories have littered the media
- One well-known reality personality posted a nude picture of herself on social media; almost immediately, other women lashed out, criticizing the move
- Tennis star Maria Sharapova admitted to failing a drug test after a drug she’s used since 2006 for legitimate health issues was banned this January; other female tennis stars were the first to criticize Sharapova
- Style.com Arabia found possible evidence of one model attempting to trip another during Sunday’s Givenchy fashion show in Paris
- A woman in Houston shut down traffic after completely disrobing and dancing on the top of a semi truck
- Even for the one remaining female candidate remaining in the US presidential race, it is other women who continue to be most vocal in their opposition
To say that all these situations need to change is a platitude based in the ignorance of women’s ongoing struggle for even basic rights. None of these situations are new or unknown. They’ve been quite plainly documented for decades now. What stands before us today is not the sudden realization that something needs to be done, but rather the accusation that, in the face of knowing and seeing and understanding the inequalities women face, we have done practically nothing.
The United Nations Educations, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released a survey on gender inequality earlier this year. The report is long, but one can read the document in full here. At the conclusion of the report, they offer the following recommendations:
- Ensure full implementation of international conventions and declarations in the field of culture in line with other human rights instruments and in respect of gender equality and diversity in order to broaden the creative horizons of women and men, boys and girls, and to ensure equal access to and participation in cultural life.
- Strengthen the evidence base through regular and systematic collection and dissemination by national statistical offices of sex-disaggregated data in all areas of the cultural sector: including employment, education, capacity-building, participation and consumption.
- Develop and apply gender-responsive policies and strategies in culture that empower all members of society, taking into consideration the diversity of different groups and individuals, and the intersection of broader social factors and inequalities that may compound disadvantages.
- Reinforce national institutional capacities to promote equal access for women and men to decision-making processes, financial resources and education in cultural fields.
- Establish leadership and mentoring initiatives for female creators and heritage professionals and ensure gender balance at senior leadership levels in the cultural and creative sector.
- Support international, national and local awareness-raising and advocacy campaigns that tackle gender stereotypes and discrimination in all aspects of cultural life.
- Encourage and involve all members of society in strategies promoting gender equality in culture. This includes working in partnership with all groups and communities concerned to promote sustainable solutions for gender-equal access, participation in and contribution to culture.
- Support interdisciplinary research on gender equality in heritage and the creative industries that involve groups and communities concerned, and consider the complexity and diversity of gender relations and the underlying power structures.
These are all reasonable recommendations. It seems to me that if we actually mean all the wonderful words that are being said about women at all the International Women’s Day observations, then we have to not merely encourage, but force our legislatures around the world to adopt these recommendations quickly. Obviously, that’s easier said than done with a US Congress that can’t seem to get its head out of its ass. International Women’s Day is meaningless, though, if all we do is talk. We have to put some popular force behind creating the changes we need or there’s no point in having International Women’s Day, Mother’s Day, or any other day celebrating women.
If we want there to be any real meaning to International Women’s Day, there must be action. Now.