Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. The Socialist Party of America began this event over 100 years ago, when it created a National Women’s Committee to recruit women. The committee’s first action was to declare the last Sunday in February as Women’s Day. Two movements, feminist and socialist, came together to fight for women’s social, economic, and political equality.
In a speech at that first celebration in 1909, Theresa Malkiel pointed out, “Though doing a man’s work in the shop and the woman’s in the home, her compensation amounts to but half of the man’s wage. Though being the bearer, educator, and often supporter of the future generation, she remains still powerless to have a say regarding its welfare.” After 105 years, women in the United States now are paid a little over three-fourth of men’s wages, and no country in the world has equal wages for men and women.
A separate day was instituted for women because anti-women sentiment in labor organizations discouraged them from attending the labor-oriented May Day celebrations. Although socialists weren’t totally accepting of female participation, they fought for women’s suffrage. The party’s presidential candidate, Eugene V. Deb, firmly believed in women’s eventual defeat of “human oppression.”
Socialist women delegates took the idea of Women’s Day to the 1910 Copenhagen meeting, and the celebration went international for women’s right to vote. European reformers from the elite and middle-class wanted women’s voting rights based on property ownership, and the efforts of an International Women’s Day (IWD) worked to have political participation by all classes.
March 8 became the permanent date of IWD by 1913. Around the world, husbands were expected to stay with the children while women marched. In Russia, a mass protest on March 8, 1917, may have started the Bolshevik Revolution. March 8, 1975 was the beginning of the Family Code, which made “the equal rights and duties of both partners” the official, legal basis of marriage.
In the United States, women at Berkeley revived the tradition in the 1970s, leading to the designation of March as National Women’s History Month. Gone, however, is the militant activism of the original IWD. Part of this ennui may have resulted from the devastating effect during the 21st century on women’s rights as more and more conservatives took control of making laws—or preventing them. George W. Bush’s 2003 war eradicated women’s rights in Iraq, and religious fundamentalists drastically increased government control over women in the United States. This year, the Conservative Political Action Conference meets on the weekend of IWD.
While some men complain about a day just for the “ladies,” these statistics show why women around the world need change:
- Women are 40 percent of the paid labor force but have one percent of its wealth.
- One in three women will be beaten or raped during their lifetime.
- 38 percent of all murders of women are committed by a woman’s intimate partner.
- Over 130 million women living in the world today have undergone Female Genital Mutilation. That means that girls have either all or part of their clitoris and inner and outer labia sliced off without anesthesia. Sometimes part of their vaginas are also sewn up.
- Around 14 million girls, some as young as eight years old, will be married in 2014.
- Of the estimated 1.2 million children trafficked into slavery every year, 80 percent are girls.
- Every 90 seconds, one woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth, most of which are preventable.
- Women make up 80 percent of all refugees and displaced people.
- Only 1 in 13 participants of peace negotiations since 1992 have been women.
- Women account for 70 percent of the population living in absolute poverty (on less than $1.00 a day).
- Women comprise 80 percent of victims of hand-held weapons in war.
- Women are legally bound to obey their husbands in at least ten countries.
- Only 76 countries have legislation that specifically addresses domestic violence, and only 57 of these include sexual abuse.
- 128 of 143 countries had some sort of sex-based legal differentiation in 2013, for example, women needing their husbands’ consent to work in some countries.
- Women spend at least twice as much time as men do on unpaid housework and care work.
- Almost 40 percent of people think that men should have more rights to jobs than women if jobs are scarce.
- Women fill only 24 percent of senior management roles.
One of the problems in communicating world-wide gender inequality may come from the predominance of men in the media:
- Men own the 20 most-visited online news sites.
- Male opinion-page writers outnumber women four to one at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.
- White men host all but one of the Sunday morning talk shows.
- Women comprise only 14 percent of those interviewed and 29 percent of roundtable guests on Sunday TV talk shows.
- Men outnumber women 3 to 1 as guests on major television broadcasts in the United States.
- Women own less than 7 percent of our nation’s TV and radio stations.
Even the president of the United States ignores girls. His five-year, $200-million initiative is intended to improve only opportunities of minority boys and young men. There is no mention of girls who experience problems with law enforcement, courts, schools, and home environment. Black girls experience sexual violence at higher rates than white and Latina girls and make up over a third of girls in juvenile detention. Just like minority males, black girls are often viewed as threatening or disruptive in schools, making them subject to unequal law enforcement responses.
In the United States, women have been imprisoned at almost twice the rate of men as the female population behind bars has grown by more than 800 percent in the last few decades. Black women are more than three times as likely as white women to be in prison, and Latina women are almost 70 percent more likely to be there than white women.
Minority girls and women need economic opportunities as well as their male counterparts, perhaps more because they may be the sole caretakers for children. In 2011, unemployment for both black teenage boys and girls had similar rates, yet between 2009 and 2011, when unemployment rates fell for black men, it rose for black women. In media household wealth, single black and Latina women have $100 and $120 while single black men have $7,900 and single white women and men have $41,500 and $43,800 respectively. Media wealth drops to $0 for black and Latina single women with children.
The new presidential policy follows philanthropic efforts for the past decade. Initiatives targeting black and Latino boys have collected $100 million while those for black and Latina girls have 1.0 percent of that, less than $1 million.
In her speech yesterday at the United Nations, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that women’s equality “remains the great unfinished business of the 21st century.” She asked that “women and girls and the cause of gender equality” be the core of the UN’s agenda to promote development around the world. I would ask the United States for the same efforts in promoting gender equality, erasing the draconian laws that make women second class citizens in this country and enacting new laws to provide equality for the 50 percent of citizens who are rendered unequal by the nation’s laws and policies.
The UN has launched the “He for She” campaign, urging men to take a stand for the belief that human rights for girls and women are a duty of all. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Where men and women have equal rights, societies prosper.”
A new World Bank report on women in the work world shows that gender economic inequality remains a serious problem. The marketplace is not going to fix things. The report recommends government involvement through a “gender assessment” in labor market and growth diagnostics and then enact a wide range of policies that advance gender equity, from improved child care and family leave policies to more female-friendly education programs.
As Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women said, “As you know, women hold up half of the sky. We call on all men also, stand up and hold up half of their part of the sky.”