100 years of struggling to win justice for women

Despite a century of change, finds Susie Mesure, we are still striving for true sexual equality across the globe

One hundred years ago next Saturday, 15,000 female garment workers took to the streets of Manhattan with a list of demands longer than the empire dresses then fashionable. From better working conditions to equal pay, childcare centres and the right to vote, the striking workers wanted to be allowed to live the same lives enjoyed by their male counterparts.

That mass protest, on 8 March 1908, and the many others that were to follow, helped pave the way for a century of change that saw women get the vote and could yet see the first woman elected President of the United States.

To mark the centenary of that struggle, which is remembered each year on International Women's Day, The Independent on Sunday has looked at how far women's rights have come in three very different countries in three very different parts of the world. To call the picture mixed is something of an understatement: in the UK, we can rightly hail the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act 33 years ago, yet in India barely 10 per cent of elected members to the upper house of parliament are women.

Barbara Stocking, chief executive of Oxfam, summed up the paradox still facing our sisters in the developing world: "Women are now playing a stronger role in developing societies than ever before. The representation of women at the very highest level in national parliaments, in business and in labour organisations such as unions has vastly increased. But nearly 100 years on from the first International Women's Day, it defies belief that so many women across the developing world are still facing some of the fundamental historical challenges that have held women back for centuries."

In Malawi, nearly three-quarters of the country's full-time farmers are women, and mothers are still burying one in 10 of their babies. Indeed, maternal ill-health is one of the biggest battles remaining to be fought around the world. The scale of the crisis is exposed today in a new report from an influential parliamentary select committee, claiming that up to one million pregnant women die every year from largely avoidable causes, nearly double the previous estimate.

Malcolm Bruce, the Liberal Democrat chairman of the International Development Committee, said it was "a shameful disgrace and a personal tragedy for millions of families in the developing world" that there had been little progress in reducing maternal deaths in the past 20 years. While Mr Bruce blamed a lack of global political will, prominent voices in the women's movement are more pointed in their criticism.

Bidisha, contributing editor of the feminist magazine Sibyl, said: "The challenge we face is that women are still hated.... We must continue to fight machismo, bigotry and abuse."

And Dr Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality between the sexes, added: "History shows us that trying to shoehorn women into systems designed by men for men doesn't work."

A UK study last week showed that new mothers returning to work often find themselves swapping career status for flexibility in the form of part-time jobs. Just one-third of working mothers with pre-school children are employed full-time, compared with 85 per cent of childless women.

Martha Nussbaum, the author of Sex and Social Justice, said: "In most nations of the world, women face unequal education and employment opportunities, and have unequal political power. Whether another century of striving for equality will finally hand victory to women remains to be seen."

Additional reporting by Ian Griggs, Nina Lakhani and Kate Youde

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn