*Trigger warning - mention of FGM and domestic abuse.*
International Women’s Day 2021 is an extremely important occasion, not just an excuse to celebrate women, but also to highlight the problems and issues effecting women in the 21st century, and what is stopping women from gaining full gender equality.
However, highlighting issues affecting women, and celebrating women, should not just be something that happens on International Women’s Day, it should happen as often as possible.
Some of the issues still affecting women are female genital mutilation (FGM), period poverty, the gender pay gap, increase of domestic violence cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of women in leadership roles and the increased likelihood of women losing their jobs during the pandemic.
Three million girls are at risk of FGM every year and experience it all over the world.
Types of FGM procedures performed on girls varies, with 90% of procedures being either type I (mainly clitoridectomy), type II (excision), or type IV, which is “nicking” without removing any flesh. The other 10% of procedures are the most severe form of FGM, which is type III, infibulation, where flesh is removed, but the majora/labia minora is not sewed back together.
It’s particularly difficult to prosecute cases of FGM, because they stem from cultural practices. However, in 2019 the first prosecution of FGM took place in the UK, which campaigners applauded.
FGM also includes breast ironing, another cultural practice and child abuse in the UK. The United Nations found that breast ironing effects 3.8 million girls and is one of the 5 most under-reported crimes relating to gender-based violence.
In the UK, and around the world, period poverty is also a huge problem facing women and girls, where they are unable to access sanitary products, often because of the cost of them. For example, in the UK one in ten girls cannot afford sanitary products, with many unable to attend school as a result.
After a five-year long campaign of Labour MSP, Monica Lennon, Scotland is going to become the first country to make period products free for everyone. The successful campaign should bring a ray of hope to all women, and any girl that has had to miss school because of it.
Another major issue effecting many women is the gender pay gap.
In many job sectors, women are paid less than men, even those who hold the same job roles. The gender pay gap is a global phenomenon, often brushed off as false, because women are more likely to take time off work than men, in instances of maternity leave, for example.
Interestingly, this year the government in the UK has decided to not make it obligatory to publish gender pay gap reporting this year, due to the pandemic.
In 2020 the gender pay gap is at 15.5% among all employees. The figure has improved since last year’s reporting but is still a terrifying statistic.
Another issue highlighted by the pandemic is domestic violence. During the pandemic there was a 7% increase in domestic abuse related crimes reported between March and June 2020 in the UK alone.
Victims of domestic violence are more often women. For example, the year ending March 2016 to the year ending March 2018, 74% of domestic homicides were female and, in the year ending March 2019, most domestic violence victims were female.
Domestic abuse and domestic violence are a clear problem faced by women. However, men can experience it too and, in all circumstances, domestic violence is wrong.
Another problem highlighted by the pandemic is the lack of women in politics and in leadership positions.
Jacinda Ardern, the Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand, has been praised globally for her response to the Coronavirus crisis. The pandemic proved how successful women can be in a crisis, with many of Ardern’s male counterparts handling the crisis much worse.
In New Zealand, 26 people have died from COVID-19, whereas in the US, under the leadership of Donald Trump, 520,000+ people have sadly died.
Currently, only 27.3% of the UK cabinet is female, the lowest amount since 2014. Perhaps, one of the reasons women are so badly impacted by this crisis, is because of the lack of female representation in decision-making roles?
Due to the experiences of women, they may be better in leadership roles or as heads of government, than men. However, as of November 2019, only 87 countries had female heads of state or government.
The pandemic also highlighted the increased likelihood of women losing their job during the crisis. For example, in the US 5.4 million women lost their jobs, 1 million more than men.
Claudia Hupkau, Professor of Economics at CUNEF, Madrid, said: “Women are facing great challenges.
“They make up the majority of those working in jobs on the front-line.”
We shouldn’t highlight gender equality issues on International Women’s Day, fight for them every day. Our future daughters depend on it.
Happy International Women’s Day!