Evolution of women's rights

The progress of women worldwide, as of International Women’s Day, March  2020

From 1911, March 8  has been designated as International Women's Day. It is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women along with progress made towards women's equality and the need to constantly try and  make the situation of women and girls better everywhere.

On this day and during the month of March, there are many international, national and local activities  that challenge stereotypes, fight discrimination, empower , celebrate diversity and fight to  improve  housing, employability and other situations that  affect women.

A short history of the women’s movement, how did it start?

 In the early 20th century, there was a lot of activism regarding the issues of women's oppression and inequality. In 1911, International Women's Day was honoured the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. During  this period, more than one million women and men campaigned for women's rights to work, to  vote, be trained, hold public office and  to end discrimination. Two events, that took place in 2011 in New York City,  a march of 15,000 women and a tragic work incident   resulting  in the loss of  over 140  mostly immigrant working women drew significant attention to   the need for better working conditions and labour  laws in the United States. Women’s poverty  and the right to fair employment   were issues  in the Bread and Roses' campaign that also began in 1911 and  became pivotal points for subsequent International Women's Day events.  

The struggle for women’s emancipation however was not only taking place in the Western world, in  1917 Russian women campaigned for peace before the war began. Later on and in response to death of over 2 million Russian soldiers they began a strike for "bread and peace".  This activism was carried on by others worldwide through strikes,  marches and different activities whose purpose was  also to support women’s solidarity.

There were many periods of activism on behalf of women’s rights, particularly in the United States. In the early sixties and seventies the ‘women’s liberation movement’ sought to provide equality in terms of   employment, sexuality, education and profession, choice of dress and action for women. It is chiefly through the activism of these periods that young women and girls have the results that they have now.

The role of the UN in the promotion of women’s rights and International Women’s Day:

International Women's Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations, 45 years ago in 1975 but it was only two years later  that the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States.
There were four main conferences on women that were conducted under the auspices of the UN, the fourth being The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995,   that set the stage for the empowerment of women and girls everywhere and where annual themes that affected women, including violence against women, poverty, gender equality , and so forth were added. The Beijing Platform for Action set strategic objectives and actions for the achievement of gender equality in 12 critical areas of concern:  Women and poverty, education  and training of women, women and health, women and armed conflict, women and the economy, women and decision making, women and human rights, advancement of women, women in the media, women  and the girl child ,women in the environment,  and establishing mechanisms for the advancement of women.

By 2000 however there appeared to be a worldwide  freeze on feminism;  using the ‘F’ word was not a popular thing in many communities and countries.  On the one hand, being a feminist was often associated with breaking the family; on the other, there was a pervasive feeling by women that most issues had been addressed and overcome.

Here we are in the year 2020 and what can we say?

This year’s motto at the UN for International Women’s Day is, I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights. The theme is aligned with UN Women’s new multigenerational campaign, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and all that this signifies.

What are the main achievements and inroads  that have been made regarding women’s situations, standard of living, wage parity and the violence that has historically been perpetrated against them? Where do we stand on equality?

Here is our current reality as women in today’s world.

According to recent reports:

  • It would take Canada 164 years to close the economic gap between men and women; the overall Canadian gender pay gap is among the highest in the OECD, ranking 31st place out of 36 other countries. [1]
  • Women in Canada make only $0.84 for every dollar a man makes; for  Indigenous women, women of colour and women with disabilities it is much less ; as such  inequality is even further away for Indigenous women, women of colour and women with disabilities.
  • Every day, shelters have to turn away 379 women and 215 children because there is no space. [2]
  • In  2017 , 75,399 women reported incidents of intimate partner violence to the police.,[3]
  • As regards  equality, Iceland tops the index  for its 14th consecutive year having closed more than 85% of its overall gender gap followed by Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.[4]
  • One of the worst performances for women is in political representation, where it is estimated that it will take 95 years to close the gender gap ; with women in 2019 holding only  25.2% of parliamentary (lower-house) seats and 21.2% of ministerial positions.[5]
  • gender parity in education , is forecast to take just 12 years;
  • By far, the worst results are in economic participation where It will take an estimated 257 years before gender parity can be achieved

By region, Western Europe has made the most progress on gender parity (standing at 76.7%), followed by North America (72.9%), Latin America and the Caribbean (72.2%), Eastern Europe and Central Asia (71.3%), Sub-Saharan Africa (68.2%), South Asia (66.1%) and the Middle East and North Africa (60.5%).How many years will it take certain areas of the world to reach gender parity? It is estimated that it will take from 54 years in western Europe, to 151 in North America, the lowest score in the report![6]

Recent reports on equality of men and women in certain categories:

  • From 173 countries, 90%, (155)  have at least one law that limits women’s economic opportunities,
  • 66% (118  )states put restrictions on the types of jobs women can do or allow men to tell them if they can work at all;
  • 31% (54 countries) require women to get permission from their husbands to apply for a passport or do not allow married mothers to confer citizenship on their children;
  • Thirty states or 28%  have legislation that designates men household heads,  or states that women are legally obliged to obey their husbands.
  • More positively, over the past two years, 38% ( 65 countries )– the majority developing states – have made 94 reforms to their statute books to improve gender parity.
  • in violence against women: 73% (127 countries) have laws on domestic violence
  • 10%  (18) of  the member countries including Canada, Peru and Namibia, have no legal restrictions on women
  • Countries in the Middle East and North Africa had the most discriminatory laws, particularly around women’s ability to work or move freely.
  • South Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, have made the fewest reforms over the past two years.
  • Limitations in employment were discerned in  24% (41) countries  that prohibit women from  some factory jobs,  another 17%(29 )do not allow women to work at night. In Russia women are barred from 456 jobs.
  • Only half of the countries studied offered paternity leave, and less than a third had provisions for parental leave, putting the onus for childcare on women.
  • In  20% (35) countries, women do not have the same inheritance rights as men when their spouses die and even when there are laws in place, women are often pressured to give up their inheritance

Some conclusions that are taken in this report is that in countries that restrict a woman’s ability to make economic decisions, girls are less likely to finish secondary school and their prospects of running or managing a business are diminished and  if a woman does manage to get a job, she is likely to earn less than a man.

And where is Greece  as regards gender parity ? With 51.2 out of 100 points, Greece ranks last in the EU on the Gender Equality Index. Its score has increased by only 4.4 points from 2005 to 2017 (+ 1.2 points compared to 2015). Despite this minor progress towards gender equality, Greece’s score places it one position lower than in 2005. Although making advances in the areas of health (83.5) and economics (71.4), gender inequalities are most pronounced in the domain of power (24.3 points), even though the score in this domain improved by 6.1 points since 2005. Furthermore, Greece’s score increased in the domain of knowledge (+ 8.5 points), while it decreased the most in the domain of time (- 1.5 points).

Between 2005 and 2017, Greece improved its Index score, but had a much lower score than the EU score throughout the entire period. Greece has moved towards gender equality at a slower rate than the EU’s score, meaning that the gap between Greece and the EU has increased over time.

The reality of the situation  then is, that as of March 2020, is that there is still more violence that is directed to women worldwide including   increased reports of sexual violence with the ‘‘Me too’’ movements; wage parity although substantially better has not been achieved even here in North America; working conditions are still deplorable in many countries and women’s poverty is an important  issue everywhere. What is our message? That we still need to empower, educate and support women everywhere. That equality is still not here.

[1] 2019 report by The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

[2] 2019 report from women’s Shelters Canada

[3] 2018, Juristat, Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile

[4] In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap 2020 Report,  that  ranks 153 countries on their ability to close the gender gap in four fundamental areas: economic participation and opportunity, education, health and survival, and political empowerment,

[5] In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap 2020 Report

[6] IBID