The Big Question: What relevance does International Women's Day have for women?


Why are we asking this now?



Kathryn Bigelow timed her Oscar triumph perfectly. As the first woman to win the Best Film award for The Hurt Locker, whose theme is war's dirty little secret – that some men enjoy it – she exemplified female success on the eve of International Women's Day, which was marked around the globe yesterday. That she did so by eclipsing her ex-husband, James Cameron, director of the much-hyped Avatar, might have added to the frisson for millions of her gender. But her success, by its rarity, highlights the difficulty women face in achieving parity with men.



So is there much to celebrate in 2010?



It depends where you are coming from. A hundred years ago they lacked the vote (until those earliest campaigners for gender equality, Millicent Fawcett and Emily Pankhurst, won universal suffrage). Improved education, status and opportunities followed. Women have since entered the workforce in increasing numbers, acquired economic independence and the ability to control their fertility.

It is nearly 50 years since the start of the so-called sexual revolution and almost 40 since Germaine Greer published the The Female Eunuch, unleashing feminism and opening a new debate about male-female relations. As recently as the 1970s, a single woman was unable to obtain a mortgage (she had to find a husband first).

Today, in some highly paid professions such as medicine, there are more female entrants than male, because women are outranking men in academic performance.



But that is not exactly the whole picture?



Things have not turned out in the way anticipated by the early pioneers of the feminist movement. Natasha Walter, in her new book, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, writes of how the former visionaries have been let down by the ladette culture, as an avalanche of cleavage and underwear has overwhelmed them. Younger women wanted to rebel against the bra-burning, dungaree-wearing right-thinking women of their mothers' generation and the fashion and entertainment industries were only too happy to oblige. Critics claim that with ankle-crippling stilettos and pole dancing classes, these women have ended by fostering a culture that objectifies bodies while pretending to celebrate youthfulness and sensuality.



Does the prime minister want more from women?



In a manner of speaking. He wants more women at the top of organisations. In an internet message to mark International Women's Day, Gordon Brown said it was "completely unacceptable" that many of the biggest firms still didn't have women in senior positions. Only one in 10 directors on the boards of FTSE 100 firms is female, according to figures from the Cabinet Office. Companies argue that women are under-represented because they value their families more than their careers. But that cuts no ice with Harriet Harman, the equality minister. She attacked "businesses that run on the basis of an old boy network," because they would never deliver "a proper meritocracy or truly family-friendly workplaces".



How will the Government help women?

Under the Equality Bill companies with more than 250 workers will have to disclose how much more they pay men than women. Provisions in the bill will also allow employers to give preference to a woman with the same qualifications as a man. Ms Harman is also asking the Financial Reporting Council, an independent regulator, to consider putting a clause in its code of conduct "to require firms to report on what they're doing to get more women into their boardrooms".



What about those at the other end of the social spectrum?

A generation of women are growing up, getting pregnant, having babies and becoming single mothers, who have only fleeting involvement with men. Lacking male role models, their children grow up and repeat the cycle. Figures show increasing numbers of young mums with no jobs, no money and no partners - few work and most live on benefits. The number of single mothers whose mothers were single parents, too, has risen from 48 per cent to 53 per cent over 10 years. Not much progress there.



Have men changed?



Not in the way women hoped. They are still hopeless around the house. According to Martin Amis, talking about his new book, The Pregnant Widow, it is this that explains why feminism has failed – because men don't do an equal share of the housework. Women have to do all the domestic chores (or most of them), including feeding and bathing the children, supervising their homework, choosing their schools – and then outperform men in the office. In short, women still do the jobs men don't want to do while men stand back and let them get on with it.



Is there a country we can learn from?



Yes – Latvia. It has the highest proportion of female executives in Europe at 41 per cent, compared with 35 per cent in the UK. A new book, Profiting from Diversity by Gloria Moss, claims that Latvia offers a "rare glimpse of how women manage when freed of the constraints of being a minority. Latvia boasts "a legacy of strong women" with folklore punctuated by powerful female figures, and "families in which men were not at the apex". "This is ... indicative of a pervasive culture in Latvian business," says Ms Moss.



What would most improve women's lives globally?

The mobile phone, according to Cherie Blair. Writing in yesterday's Independent, the barrister and wife of the former prime minister said women in Africa are 23 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone, 24 per cent in the Middle East and 37 per cent in South Asia. As well as making women feel safer and more independent, they can use mobile phone texts to check prices for crops (most earn their living from the land), get better deals at market, increase their income and that of their children. "Their personal economic success boosts the income of the whole family and is key to combating poverty and ill-health."



So is International Women's Day still relevant?

Launched in 1911 as a socialist political event to press for women's demands, it was sanctioned by the United Nations in 1975 and is now celebrated around the world on 8 March, to inspire women and mark their achievements – as well as highlighting how much is still left to achieve. This year, a coalition of campaign groups including Oxfam, Amnesty International and White Ribbon Alliance demanded world leaders give greater priority to maternal and child health.

The mortality rate for women giving birth in the developing world is 450 women per 100,000, some 30 per cent higher than it was in England and Wales a century ago. Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK director, said: "We do not want to wait another 100 years before we see significant progress."

Has this century-old event lost its meaning?

Yes...

*It is patronising to women to celebrate the achievements of only one sex.



*A century after the day was conceived women have achieved equality on most fronts.



*It offers token recognition of women's struggle without political or financial backing.

No...

*It is necessary to mark the achievements of women – and how much there is still to achieve.



*It focuses the minds of public and government on areas where a gender gap still exists.



*It acts as a benchmark for countries to compare progress with others around the globe.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
News
Justin Bieber performing in Paris earlier this year
people
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil