Leeds Business School

International Women’s Day: Have we achieved equality?

Since 1911, International Women’s day has been celebrated on 8th March with the aim of ‘celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women’.

The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on 28th February 1909 and it was introduced by the declaration of the Socialist Party of America. International Women’s Day is about celebrating women’s achievements, but this celebration always brings questions on what have we achieved so far and what remains unresolved.

Whilst the progress for women has been remarkable and the situation today is much improved from when women first started to campaign for equality or when the first Woman’s Day was introduced, many issues remain. It is enough to look at the pay gap and the glass ceiling that exists across industries, and not just traditionally masculine ones but also traditionally feminine professions such as nursing and teaching. Women are paid less, progress to the highest levels less frequently, often need to leave jobs to get promoted, face obstacles and prejudices when they become mothers.  Senior managers remain older men who are still enforcing prejudices over women and creating boys clubs. Working hours and expectations have not changed much with the arrival of women to the industry and there is frequently an expectation that one will not have a life out of work, which has historically always benefited men due to social expectation that women will look after children. For example, my own research into women in journalism and women in advertising has shown all of these inequalities. What is more, many younger women working in journalism have expressed concerns about their status, thus signalling that inequality and prejudice continue to this day.

If we look at the inequality in a more structural way and embrace radical and socialist feminism, then we see even more inequality that is deeply incorporated in all societies and particularly the capitalist ones. Whilst white women face career barriers, women of colour also face racism as well as sexism. Those women who do manage to get into the system and progress, have to work harder to succeed than men and they are often expected to embrace masculine behavioural and communication patterns. For example, women in journalism are confined to the so-called soft news sections until one of the traditional women’s topics (e.g. health, food, lifestyle) becomes a public issue, which is when men take over and start covering the issue and changing it along the way to hard news reporting and sensationalism.  My recent research suggests that newsrooms remain places for blokes and bloke-ified women.

Work environments reflect a masculine world that imposes masculine expectations and ways of doing things. Domestic violence and sexual assaults are still overly present across the globe, and women lack political participation. In addition, the world is still obsessively centred on maximising profit and capitalist understanding of the economy because of which nothing changes for women, in particular the working-class women who work for minimum wages or on zero-hours contracts.

While the situation needs to change and lots of work remains to be done, International Woman’s Day should be seen as a day to celebrate generations of feminists who have dedicated their lives in making a world a better place. And, we can dedicate it to celebrating our own achievements and call for more solidarity and continuation of the fight. Hasta La Victoria Siempre!

Two women smiling

Dr Martina Topic

Reader / Leeds Business School

Dr Martina Topić is a behavioural sociologist and communications scholar studying wicked problems of social inequity historically and at present, she is a Reader at Leeds Business School.

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