Proclaimed by the United Nations in 1975, International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global event celebrated annually on March 8th. Although this was initially thought to be the legacy of a Western movement, women’s rights were discussed in other parts of the world long before that. In 1920, for example, doctors in Egypt protested against “traditional” female genital mutilation (FGM) because of its harm and side effects. This protest was one of the first of its kind, and yet FGM still exists in some countries under the guise of ‘tradition’.
Each feminist generation had its specific struggles and struggles. The first movements dealt with the right to equal work in all fields, the right to property and voting rights. In the period 1960-1980, the debate focused on the social and political role of women in a patriarchal and male-dominated world. This period has also witnessed the rise and promotion of birth control, gender roles and identities, domestic and economic roles, rape and other sexual violence, among others. From the 1980s to 2010, third wave feminism was seen. Feminist movements have revisited some of their original positions.
This year, as International Women’s Day 2022 approaches, companies are trying to show their support for women through ads of strong women breaking barriers imposed by society; they advertise products that can “help” them break down such barriers. Alternatively, the spots address taboos surrounding women, such as menstruation or what women “can’t do”. But while some activists are excited about this publicity, questions are being raised about who controls the campaigns behind the scenes. Some companies promote their products by exploiting sensitivity to women’s rights while disregarding the rights of their own employees. This practice is referred to as “purplewashing” and is often the product of both political and marketing strategies that recognize a perceived commitment to gender equality.
Gender pay gaps and unequal wage distribution have long been global problems that have yet to be addressed comprehensively. They are visible in almost all sectors, especially in low-skilled and informal jobs, which are predominantly held by women and young people. According to the World Economic Forum 2020 report, the current pace in resolving this imbalance is so insufficient that it would take 100 years to reach the goal of equal pay.
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Although industrialization has given women, particularly in poorer countries, opportunities to work and support local economies, the conditions under which they work are still a cause for concern. Such conditions include a wide range of rights such as wage differentials, protection from sexual harassment and security issues.
Although women made up the majority of frontline healthcare workers during the pandemic (up to 70 percent), a 28 percent gender pay gap still existed, along with fewer opportunities for a full-time job or a managerial position. Although women have been recognized as essential pillars of the healthcare sector worldwide during the pandemic, they are still underrepresented in the sector and in leadership positions that they can adequately represent.
Women, particularly in third world and developed countries (such as India and China), make up 70 percent or more of factory workers, where they are employed in positions that require minimal training and receive the lowest pay. For example, factory workers in the Philippines were only trained to sew the trademark back pockets of Levi Jeans (a company known for creating the first pair of jeans for women in 1934). This approach not only limits their skills, but also prevents them from acquiring new skills and thus the opportunity for higher pay.
Sports companies like Nike, which promote inclusion in sports, also faced a backlash for violating the Equal Pay Act by engaging in systemic gender pay discrimination and ignoring widespread sexual harassment in the workplace. Many other companies continue to lag behind on gender equality in the workforce and factories, with only a handful of companies scoring 50 out of 100 or below in the World Benchmarking Alliance’s Gender Benchmark.
Unfortunately, the problem of the gender pay gap is not limited to underdeveloped or developing countries. This problem continues to be a problem in developed countries as well.
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Inequality and the low status of women have important economic, political and social consequences. Silencing women’s voices can slow the process of conflict resolution and develop state economies to manage resources efficiently. The inclusion of women in the security and peace process is essential to ensure that the goals of the proposed frameworks achieve all.
As we enter a new era of post-pandemic recovery that has further highlighted the vulnerability of women in times of crisis, we should be aware that companies and organizations in general are not keeping their word. They continue to strive primarily for profit. In doing so, they not only obscure the harsh realities faced by female employees, but also shift the actual debate to devalue the equality movement and turn it into a capitalist tool.
IWD is not just a time of celebrating what women have achieved or mourning the struggles they have endured in the past. While these are indeed important, IWD is actually a time to monitor the evolving issues surrounding women’s rights, create awareness of these current issues and work towards equal rights and empowerment for every single woman around the world to reach the world without regard to their race, religion, tradition, choices or class.
In a world where capitalism uses every ideology for its own benefit (including greenwashing, pinkwashing and whitewashing), we must be aware that discrimination in relation to women’s rights is a reality and it is everyone’s responsibility to to eliminate them. Women’s rights movements are not just another “narrative”. They are grassroots and collective movements in action.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect Middle East Monitor’s editorial policies.