International Women’s Day: The one big change activists want to see in the world

From ending violence against women to making flexible working the default, these are the steps that could be taken to get closer to equality.

Prudence Wade
Wednesday 08 March 2023 06:30 GMT
International Women’s Day is on March 8 (Alamy/PA)
International Women’s Day is on March 8 (Alamy/PA)

International Women’s Day (March 8) is an opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements, but it’s also a chance for reflection.

It’s clear there’s still a way to go before true gender equality is achieved – but how can we get there?

These are the changes women’s rights activists want to see in the world to get us one step closer to equality…

Ending violence against women

“While the vast majority of approaches to ending violence against women and girls have focused on responding after the harm is done, we won’t see any progress towards gender equality until we shift towards prevention,” says Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition.

“Victims and survivors deserve access to justice and specialist support, but true justice means stopping women and girls from becoming victims in the first place. We know that violence against women and girls is not inevitable and that a different world is possible, but to get there we need to see political commitment and sustainable investment in prevention work.”

How can we get there? “This looks like properly resourced, quality relationships and sex education in schools that is based on consent and equality, and long-term public behaviour change campaigns that shift the attitudes that tolerate and excuse this abuse,” she says.

Free childcare

The big thing Zing Tsjeng, author of Forgotten Women (Brazen, £30), wants to see change for women is childcare.

“All childcare should be free – and not just free childcare up all the way up until kindergarten age, but also free childcare after school, so parents aren’t shackled to the school run,” she says.

“It’s a woman’s choice whether or not to have children, and she should never be stuck between having a baby or having a career. So many women are pushed out of work because it’s cheaper to stay at home, even though raising children is a form of unwaged – and underappreciated – labour in itself.

“It makes economic sense, too – a 2022 joint report from the Institute for Public Policy Research and Save the Children found that it would cut nearly £2.8bn from government spending in the UK because more people will be back in work.”

Make flexible working the default

“There’s no ‘silver bullet’ solution for gender equality, but when it comes to women in the workplace, there’s one change we know would make all the difference: make flexible work the default for all employees,” says Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of The Fawcett Society.

Evidence shows us time and again that the bulk of caring and domestic labour falls to women and almost every working woman knows it’s challenging (sometimes even impossible) to fit these responsibilities around rigid working patterns. And yet, particularly as careers progress, it can be extremely difficult to find jobs that offer genuine flexibility.

“This lack of quality flexible work has a two-fold impact – it traps women on low incomes and discourages men from working flexibly, both of which hit women hard. We need to see women encouraged to continue their careers by offering more flexible roles and men offered the same flexibility so they can take on a more equal share of domestic and caring labour.”

Olchawski wants flexibility to be built into all jobs, rather than something to be negotiated when you’re in the post. “This will make a huge difference to the many, many women who are either locked out of the workforce or working below their skill level.”

Encourage more female entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur Sahar Hashemi, founder of Buy Women Built, wants to see more female entrepreneurs setting up businesses.

“I’ve always believed – particularly in the area of entrepreneurship – women are particularly strong and incredibly untapped,” she says. “I think entrepreneurship suits the feminine qualities us women have, that traditionally we had to almost hide away in the corporate workplace – everything from our multitasking to our networking, to our vulnerability.”

Hashemi suggests the best way to encourage more female entrepreneurs is by lifting up the ones we already have.

“Let’s buy with activism, and the more we shine a light, the more people can see what amazing [things] women can achieve,” she says.

This could then boost the economy. Hashemi cites research from The Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, which found if the UK were to have the same share of female entrepreneurs as similar countries, £200 billion of value would be added to the economy.

“We’re really lagging in the UK in our rates of female entrepreneurship, and it’s costing us all our prosperity,” Hashemi adds – and that’s something she wants to see change in the future.

Eliminating the digital gender divide

Sonal Kadchha, Educating The Children founder and counsellor, is keen to see funding help reduce the digital gender divide.

“Globally only 3% of ICT [information and communications technology] graduates are women, and the disparities in the developing world are even bigger,” she says.

“The evidence on the benefits of investing in girls’ education are widely documented – it is costing countries between $15 trillion [£12.5 trillion] and $30 trillion [£25 trillion] in lost lifetime productivity and earnings

“Governments are taking action to address the gap, but we need to make sure that the funding remains relevant for the world we’re living in today – and this is through STEM education.”

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