I am always surprised that many young women (and men) don’t personally identify as feminists. To be a feminist is to believe that men and women, boys and girls, should have the same rights and opportunities, and be treated with the same dignity and respect. That seems like something we should all be able to get behind. It doesn’t mean that you hate men, and it isn’t defined by what you wear or your sexuality. In fact, men and boys, and society as a whole will all benefit from a more just and fair world; a world in which neither men nor women are confined to socially constructed boxes based on their sex.
But I guess the position of women has advanced so significantly in the last 50 years, at least in the western world (due to the tireless work of the women’s rights movement), that it is easy to forget how far we still have to go.
Yes, women have joined the formal workforce in increasing numbers. But they still earn substantially less than men with the same level of education. Across the OECD, women can expect to earn 73% of what men do. In Australia alone they earn nearly 20% less than men, and men will accrue more than twice the amount of Superannuation women do, which represents, on average a $43,619 difference when they retire.
In OECD countries, more women complete tertiary education (46% of women versus 31% of men). And yet, employment rates remain lower for women. Among tertiary educated people, 79% of women are employed versus 88% of men. There are numerous reasons for this, including the marketability of gendered professions – when asked, far more boys than girls say they can envisage themselves pursuing a career in engineering or computing.
Yes, men have started to become more engaged in parenting, but still, in almost every OECD country, women spend more time engaged in unpaid household labour, washing, preparing food and caring for sick family members. In America, women spend more than 2 hours a day on chores, compared to 82 minutes for men. Even in Finland, women spend 137 minutes each day on household duties, compared to 91 minutes for men. This is in spite of the fact that women have also increased their time spent in the workforce. Where is this time being made up? From a loss of personal or sleep time. This happens because societies assume that these tasks come naturally to, or are the responsibility of a woman.
Yes, women have more choice over whom they marry, when and even if they marry, but still at least 1 woman per week in Australia and 2 women per week in the UK is killed by a current or former partner.
And yes, you can theoretically be whatever you want to be. But if that’s an actress know that females comprise only 30% of all speaking roles; if you want to be an author know that you’re much less likely to be recognised for your work – 31 of 45 previous Booker winners have been men; and if you dream of being a politician you’ll be joining only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians who are female. And the list goes on.
Sure, there are some places where it is better to be a woman, and some places where it is much worse.
In Tunisia and in a number of other countries, if a woman is raped, the perpetrator may not be charged with a crime if he agrees to marry his victim. In Yemen, an 8 year old girl recently died on her wedding night after being forced to marry a man five times her age.
You might think that these are isolated incidents but they are not. Globally 1 in 3 women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. In the developing world one third of girls are married before the age of 18, and one in nine are married before the age of 15. In 127 countries marital rape is still not considered a crime.
We should be outraged. All of us.
Ultimately you still might chose not to identify with the the word feminist, although I think you should, because as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie argues, otherwise we deny that it is women who have, for centuries, been excluded. But whatever you decide to call yourself, we must all recognise that there is still a very long way to go before women and men have equality.
In fact, although there is much to celebrate, progress towards gender parity has slowed in many places. The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already protracted pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn't close entirely until 2133. That's 117 years away!!! Think about that for a moment. That means you won’t see it in your lifetime. Your children (if you have them) won’t see it in their lifetime. And, your children’s children might not even live to witness gender equality.
But we can change this. We can all do something. On International Women’s Day today, pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly. It could be to support women and girls achieve their ambitions, call for gender-balanced leadership, respect and value difference, or develop more inclusive and flexible cultures. I pledge to continue my work to end violence against women and to raise my children, particularly my boys, to see vulnerability as a strength. I pledge, with my husband, to model a family where men are valued for their equal role in unpaid care work and where women can equally chose to be the breadwinner. What will you do?