TACOMA, Washington — Female empowerment is still just as vital to society as ever, and as 2020 exemplified, the fight for equality progresses. As this fight continues, the United Nations has named the theme for International Women’s Day 2021 (IWD) as “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” International Women’s Day 2021 might look slightly different due to COVID-19 precautions and social distancing measures, but the message of enthusiasm and importance remains the same.
History Behind the Day
International Women’s Day is a day where women are recognized for their outstanding achievements despite divisions and persisting boundaries. IWD is an official holiday in more than 19 countries. It has helped strengthen support for women’s rights movements and participation in politics and the economy. This day has been especially significant for women in developing countries whose rights might be severely limited.
On February 28, 1908, the first International Women’s Day was recorded in the United States. This day, proposed by the Socialist Party of America, was meant to honor a major female-led strike against working conditions in New York at the time. In 1910, there was a second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen where Clara Zetkin introduced the notion of having an International Women’s Day. The response and subsequent decision were unanimous: 100 women from 17 different countries, representing various groups such as socialist parties, unions and women’s clubs, were delighted at the idea.
In 1911, IWD was celebrated for the first time ever on March 19 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. These new celebrations took place on March 19 to honor the Revolution of 1848 and “Commune de Paris,” and voiced women’s demands to work, have vocational training and end discrimination in the workplace.
Over the years, more gatherings of women have united in efforts to embrace collective female empowerment. These strong-minded individuals fought for equal rights, including the right to work, vote and hold public office, among other things. In 1975, March 8 was celebrated as International Women’s Day during a designated International Women’s Year.
Gender Inequality in Poverty
Despite these historical developments, women’s empowerment still has far to go globally. The majority of the world’s poor are women due to continuous gender inequalities occurring globally — an issue that has only worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic. In “2021, for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty (living on USD 1.90 a day or less), there will be 118 women, a gap that is expected to increase to 121 women per 100 men by 2030.” Furthermore, the pandemic has forced 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021; of those people, 47 million are women and girls.
Globally, women earn 24% less than men. In addition, 700 million more men than women engage in paid work, a statistic that directly correlates with the fact that worldwide, women are still expected to carry out the roles of childcare and housekeeping while men bring home the money. When women work outside the home, they have longer workdays. Over a lifetime, women, on average, will work for four more years than men.
COVID-19 and Women in the Economy
Women’s employment heavily relies on the informal economy as 70% of women rely on it for work. However, the informal economy is often dependent upon social interactions and public gatherings. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such activity is restricted. Thus millions of women are at risk of losing their sources of income. In total, women have lost 5.4 million jobs due to the current economic climate, which is almost one million more jobs lost than men have lost. As a result of the disproportional economic effect, COVID-19 has increased the gender gap.
If governments did not provide subsidies to reduce monetary losses, women would have seen an 8.1% decrease in wages compared to the 5.4% decrease for men. Additionally, according to a report by the International Labor Organization, the hardest-hit workers in this pandemic have been women and lower-paid employees.
This Year’s Women’s Day
Women are constantly reminded of the disproportionalities they face through everyday activities; however, they need to be reminded of their power as well in order to adequately fight gender inequality.
The theme of International Women’s Day 2021 encourages women to reignite the spark lit by the women before them to recover from the novel coronavirus and its socio-economic consequences. By overcoming these unprecedented crises, the international community can continue its significant work of eliminating gender barriers and social inequalities. Throughout this health crisis, the strength of women prevails. As women stand on the front lines as caregivers, healthcare workers, community organizers and entrepreneurs, their contributions to society have never been so illuminated.
U.N. Women notes, “Women leaders and women’s organizations have demonstrated their skills, knowledge and networks to effectively lead in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. Today there is more acceptance than ever before that women bring different experiences, perspectives and skills to the table, and make irreplaceable contributions to decisions, policies and laws that work better for all.”
– Victoria Mangelli