When will women stop being second class citizens?

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March 8, 2016 by lucychlin

International-Womens-Day-1

To commemorate International Women’s Day today, I saw the movie “Suffragette”. It was a fascinating loosely-based historical biopic about the events that led to women’s right to vote.

Set in London in 1912, working class women received low wages, had to work long hours in unsafe factory conditions and earned less than their husbands. Sexual abuse by factory managers were common as women had little or no voice to report atrocities in a male dominated society. Their children were also the custody of the husband only.

The suffragette movement was started by women frustrated by their social and economic situation. The power to vote would mean the power to make decisions, the power to change the law, and the power to change their current situation.

Spearheaded by Emmeline Pankhurst, women did what they could to draw attention to their cause. Peaceful campaigns and the issuing of leaflets were ignored, so they resorted to more dramatic measures such as hunger strikes, setting fire to mailboxes, smashing windows and detonating bombs. The incident and subsequent death of Emily Davison, who ran onto the horse track at the 1913 Epsom Derby and was trampled by King George V’s horse, finally gained global recognition for the movement.

The women’s right to vote bill was passed in New Zealand in 1893 as the first self-governing colony in the world, followed by Australia in 1903 as the first independent country for women to vote nationally. The first European nation was Latvia in 1905; Uruguay was the first South American nation in 1917, and official constitutional reforms changed in the USA in 1920 and in the UK in 1928. I was surprised Switzerland only changed its laws in 1971. The latest nation to change its laws in 2015 is Saudi Arabia, where the status and perception of women in the Middle East is slowly shifting for the better.

However, the movement to be treated as an equal is far from over. A century later, women are still often perceived as the lesser sex when it comes to pay equality, workplace opportunities, body shaming and violence against women.

Ever Present: The Gender Pay Gap & The Glass Ceiling

The gender pay gap is not a myth. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the national gender pay gap is currently at 17.9% – this is a full-time average earning difference of $284.20 per week or $13,641.60 per year! This is evident across every single industry and every occupational category with the pay gap favouring men. Another statistic by the OECD informs us that it is worse in Korea where the wage gap is 36.6%! Factors contributing to this gap include:

  • A lack of women in senior positions and lack of part-time or flexible senior roles
  • Historically, female-dominated industries and jobs have attracted lower wages than male-dominated industries and jobs
  • Discrimination, both direct and indirect

Unfortunately, this means the glass ceiling concept is also true and it is still rampantly present in Australian companies where only 17% of CEOs are women. Traditionally, it was the husbands who worked and the wives stayed at home with the kids. Since the 1970s, and the widespread access of the birth control pill, women had the choice to delay pregnancy and began to flood colleges and grad schools. The “Quiet Revolution” allowed women the choice to get educated, enter the workforce as a peer to men, and establish their own careers. Once there, they often found they had to compete or fit into an “old boys club” (e.g., Peggy Olson from Mad Men), and would often get overlooked for advancement positions.

Fast-forward to today, females in the tech industry still face systematic sexism, prompting female engineers to tweet and share the #ILookLikeAnEngineer hashtag to show how widespread and diverse the population of engineers are these days. Disney is still perpetuating the old-fashion thought of “boys like superheros” and “girls like fairy tales” by consistently not manufacturing female protagonist superhero merchandise, most notably the lack of Rey from Star Wars and the Black Widow from The Avengers’ presence from toy shelves. Another hashtag #DistractinglySexy has also being used by female scientists in response to Nobel laureate Tim Hunt who said “three things happen when [women] are in the lab, you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.” Thanks Tim, I’m sure Marie Curie dried her tears when she discovered radium and polonium and collected 2 Nobel Prizes.

In 2016, I would like to see more women in senior and board positions, and more forward thinking and equality supportive companies providing equal access to rewards, resources, opportunities and pay to all employees irrespective if they are a man or woman.

Body Shaming Is Destructive

Body shaming is defined as inappropriate negative statements and attributes toward another person’s weight or size. Unfortunately, there seems to be more negativity targeted towards women than men. Serena Williams, Grand Slam tennis champion, has been described as “too masculine”, “too muscular” and bullied on social media over her strong and powerful appearance. Carrie Fisher also received shaming remarks over her latest appearance on Star Wars: The Force Awakens with critics stating she hasn’t “aged well” compared to her male counterparts and was pressured to lose 35 pounds. She says “They don’t want to hire all of me — only about three-quarters! Nothing changes, it’s an appearance-driven thing. I’m in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up. They might as well say get younger, because that’s how easy it is.”

I think body shaming is a dangerous act leading to a vicious cycle of judgement, criticism and the unfortunate result that victims may start to believe the shame. With anorexia and bulimia rising 15% in under a decade, statistics say that hospitalisation had catered for 9 times more females than males (!) with eating disorders at the alarming average age of 15 years old.

Social media has made it much easier to judge, comment and perpetuate bullying, cyberbullying, depression, anxiety and social pressures, with some cases even leading to suicide. As a society, we need to assist victims with realistic role models, healthy lifestyle encouragements and positive body reinforcements, in particular to vulnerable teenage girls.

Violence Against Women Needs To Stop Completely

The noise around violence against women is increasingly becoming louder. Malcolm Turnbull’s first major spending initiative since becoming Prime Minister was a $100 million package of measures to protect victims of domestic and family violence. The statistics are harrowing in Australia:

  • 1 in 6 women has experienced violence from a current or former partner
  • 1 in 3 women will experience violence in their lifetime
  • 2 women are killed every week on average
  • 1 women is hospitalised every 3 hours

In India, where dowry deaths, honour killings, forced child brides and gang rapes occur, violence against women is even more exacerbated with 52% of women surveyed had experienced violence during their lifetime, and 60% of the male respondents said they had acted violently against their wife or partner (ICRW). The “Masculinity, Intimate Partner Violence and Son Preferences in India” report found that men who exerted control through violence were diverse in age, level of education, place of residence and caste status, and the average Indian man is “convinced that masculinity is about acting tough, freely exercising his privilege to lay down the rules in personal relationships and, above all, controlling women”.

With more public awareness, less stigma/fear to report abuse to the police coupled with government spending to support victims – I hope this disturbing global trend will start to curb and reduced violence against women and children will also come into effect. Most importantly, I think men will need to be educated from a young age to respect women, be taught alternatives to control emotions and understand that violence is never the answer which will lead to punishable consequences supported by the law.

2016: The Year for Gender Equality?

I think society is moving in the right direction to accept women, but we are not quite there yet with full gender equality. Feminism’s definition is the “political, economic and social equality of the sexes” and this idea has many female and male supporters voicing female advocacy including a long list of entertainers, athletes, musicians, billionaires, religious leaders, influencers, authors and award winners. The first female head of government was Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1960 and since then there has been many other boundary breaking women including Margaret Thatcher (UK), Indira Gandhi (India) and TIME Person of the Year 2015 – Angela Merkel (Germany).

With political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi winning the 2015 Burmese elections by a landslide, an incoming Taiwanese leader and a women presidential hopeful in the USA looking to lead their nations, 2016 is looking to be inching closer to gender equality.

A century later, the Suffragettes’ hard-fought efforts to let women vote led to empowering consequences where females can now become politicians, law-makers and even presidents and prime ministers with a global day of celebration. If only she knew, I’m sure Emmeline Pankhurst would have been very proud of the progress women have made so far, but the fight continues on.

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