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Transforming women’s lives

Published: 
Thursday, March 8, 2018

In 1908, woken workers marched through the streets of New York City raising their demands for voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours.

In 1910, Clara Zetkin leader of the women’s office of the German Social-Democratic Party proposed that every country celebrate International Women’s Day to push for the demands of women.

In 1911, more than one million women, celebrated International Women’s Day on March 19 in several European countries and Australia. Their banner: Forward to Female Suffrage!”

In 1913, International Women’s Day was moved to March 8, the date was recognised by the United Nations and is celebrated worldwide since 1975.

This year the UN’s theme for International Women’s Day is The Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”. This is a celebration of the rural and urban activists who have transformed the lives of women around the world, whether in local grassroots campaigns or global movements for the rights of women and a more equal future.

Where are we 110 years after New York

When the women took to the streets of New York their demands were for:

• The right to vote;

• better pay;

• shorter working hours;

Women’s suffrage

More than a century later, we mark the centenary of women’s suffrage in the UK though with property limits, women’s right to vote was introduced in the People’s Representation Act of February 6, 1918.

Today, there are still a few countries in which women still have to demand “universal female suffrage without qualifications” as was raised at an International Conference of Socialist Women in 1907.

The right to vote and to participate in governance as candidates and representatives is still to be universally achieved.

The issue of pay

The demand of women, not just for better but equal pay with men for the same job, is still yet to be achieved in most of the world’s countries.

The World Economic Forum estimated in 2017 it could still take another 100 years before pay inequality disappears. It was analysed that women work “for free” for at least 51 days a year because of the pay gap.

At the start of this year, a new law making it illegal to pay women less than men came into effect. But too many countries are still lagging and paying women substandard pay and denying pay equality.

Shorter working hours

The demand for shorter working hours was taken up by workers, women and men, all over the world and the standard of the 40-hour work week and eight-hour day was won almost everywhere. There are ongoing battles as employers, including Governments, have been pushing measures to extend working hours using various subterfuges.

In all these three demands, in 2018, the time is now for them to be met.

The fight for equality and against violence

The fight of activists to transform women’s lives has been broader then the initial demands of 1908.

The fight for equality and against gender-based violence is an important part of the global movement for women’s rights, equality and justice.

Much has been said about women taking up leadership roles, about “breaking the glass ceiling” and the like. However, on a global scale only a relative few countries are led by women. In business, in the US for example, it is estimated that women hold only 14 per cent of executive leadership positions.

In many trade unions, right here in T&T, where the workplaces represented have a majority of women workers, the union leaderships still don’t reflect the membership in the number of women leaders.

The myths about leaders (men) being born and the “newness” of leadership for women are part of the ideological apparatus of women’s oppression and supporting inequality.

Leadership is skill and art. There is no genetic proclivity to either skill or art in my view. So, leadership being natural to either males or females is itself a myth. Things might get more complex but no less mythical if we apply current definitions of “gender” based on sexual orientation or preference. This “more natural leader” fallacy is part of the outlook and argument in support of male chauvinism and oppression of women.

In 2018, the time is now to debunk all this gender stereotyping and stop the denial of leadership roles for women in every aspect of social activity.

Much worse, the cycle of violence against women, of abuse that is violent, criminal, psychological, financial or otherwise continues.

It is only in our murder statistics that women are occupying space resembling parity. This is not an achievement. It is a stain on the quality of our society that we continue, and increasingly so, to unleash the most savage violence against women. The time is now to step up our activism and put a halt to violence against women and girls.

Whether it is empowering our women, in the towns or countryside, giving guarantee to women’s rights, equality and justice, we cannot leave things up to others. We must become activists for the rights of all and for a society that guarantees the rights of all its members.

For International Women’s Day 2018 the time is now to get up, stand up and get involved in the fight for the future we desire.

Clyde Weatherhead

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