Typewriter Critical Mass editorial

International Women’s Day has been celebrated annually on 8th March since its inception in 1911. This global event serves as a focal point for the women’s rights movement, highlighting issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence against women.  The first IWD gatherings were supported by over a million people.

The 2024 campaign theme is ‘Inspire Inclusion’ with the strapline ‘By inspiring and valuing women’s inclusion we collectively forge a better world. ‘

The reality is though, that after 113 years of highlighting injustices and inequalities across the world, we are a long way from ensuring that a woman’s ability to reach her full potential and lead a life free from oppression is achievable.

Maybe because of its complexity something that nobody seems to be asking in the campaign is why? Why after 113 years it is still necessary to have a day that promotes equality for 51% of the population in the UK with similar demographics across the world?.

Why, with the level of progress we have seen over the past 113 years, it is possible that a baby girl born today will still struggle to achieve her potential, be taken seriously at work and will be at greater risk of domestic violence than her male counterpart?

This is outrageous, particularly when research shows that girls in the UK outperform boys at every stage of the education process, (with the exception of mathematics) and yet these advantages are not reflected in the workplace. 

Of course, the situation is even worse for working class girls and those from ethnic minority groups. A 2017 analysis by the OECD found that girls in the top 10% for attainment but in the bottom 10% by income (classed as bright but poor) in England trailed their bright and well-off female peers by three school years in science and reading.

Class and race also affect the type of jobs both men and women have access to, how they are treated in the workplace and the opportunity to advance. For working class girls from an ethnic minority background these factors intersect and result in multiple discrimination that can prevent them having access to a life of dignity where their human rights are respected.

But the biggest question this year must be why, as the world grapples with upheaval, conflict and human suffering, epitomised by the brutal assault on Gaza, International Women’s Day has not recognised the profound impact this is having on everyone, but particularly women and girls in the region? Why has it not moved away from passively celebrating achievements and highlighting ongoing discrimination to calling for action in the form of a ceasefire to protect generations of women and girls?

As in other war zones, women are attempting to live and care for their families in the direst of circumstance. The number of households in Gaza where a widowed woman has the sole responsibility to feed and protect her family may have surged by at least 3000 since Israel launched its brutal attack in October 2023. It is a terrifying prospect for those women about to give birth as maternity services are virtually non-existent. Infant mortality rates have soared since Israel’s attack. There are no safe places. As Shaista Aziz said in her interview, it will be women who will be left to pick up the pieces and attempt to heal the broken minds and bodies of their families if and when this onslaught ends.

Their voices need amplifying.  Just as generations of girls across the world are deserving of fairness and equality, the lives of the women in Gaza and other war zones have to be valued and protected. To ignore them undermines everything the women’s movement was set up to achieve.

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