International Women’s Day, celebrated today, pays homage to the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. Indeed progress has slowed in many places across the world, and this is the primary reason that organisations the world over are calling for global action to accelerate gender parity. In 2016, leaders across the world had pledged to take action for gender parity – not only for International Women’s Day, but for every woman. The 2017 theme for International Women’s Day is “Women in the Changing World of Work : Planet 50-50 by 2030”.
The United Nations has recognised that the world of work is changing, with significant implications for women. On one hand, technological advances and globalisation bring unprecedented opportunities for those who can access them. On the other hand, there is growing informality of labour, income inequality and humanitarian crises.
Against this backdrop, only 50 per cent of working age women are represented in the labour force globally, compared to 76 per cent of men. What’s more, an overwhelming majority of women are in the informal economy, subsidising care and domestic work, and concentrated in lower-paid, lower-skill occupations with little or no social protection. Achieving gender equality in the world of work is imperative for sustainable development.
The United Nations’ observance today, March 8, will call upon all actors to Step It Up for Gender Equality towards a Planet 50-50 by 2030 by ensuring that the world of work works for all women.
In his message, the UN Secretary General António Guterres pointed out that women’s rights are human rights. However, he emphasised that in these troubled times, as our world becomes more unpredictable and chaotic, the rights of women and girls are being reduced, restricted and reversed. Empowering women and girls, the Secretary General noted is the only way to protect their rights and make sure they can realise their full potential.
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said across the world, too many women and girls spend too many hours on household responsibilities—typically more than double the time spent by men and boys. They look after younger siblings, older family members, deal with illness in the family and manage the house. In many cases, this unequal division of labour is at the expense of women’s and girls’ learning, of paid work, sports, or engagement in civic or community leadership. This shapes the norms of relative disadvantage and advantage, of where women and men are positioned in the economy, of what they are skilled to do and where they will work.
This, she emphasised, is the unchanging world of unrewarded work, a globally familiar scene of withered futures, where girls and their mothers sustain the family with free labour, with lives whose trajectories are very different from the men of the household.
We want to construct a different world of work for women. As they grow up, girls must be exposed to a broad range of careers, and encouraged to make choices that lead beyond the traditional service and care options to jobs in industry, art, public service, modern agriculture and science.
We have to start change at home and in the earliest days of school, so that there are no places in a child’s environment where they learn that girls must be less, have less, and dream smaller than boys.
This will take adjustments in parenting, curricula, educational settings, and channels for everyday stereotypes like TV, advertising and entertainment; it will take determined steps to protect young girls from harmful cultural practices like early marriage, and from all forms of violence.