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International Women's Day 2021: Yes, We Still Need It

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International Women's Day 2021: Yes, We Still Need It

International Women's Day has arrived, and as ever we're taking the opportunity to celebrate the political, social and economic strides that women have made over the past year.

From Kamala Harris being elected the first female Vice President of the United States to tampon tax being scrapped in the UK, it's fair to say we've taken some real steps towards equality in the last twelve months.

But while celebrating women's achievements is a vital part of the cause, IWD is equally about amplifying the injustices we still face in today's society.

This year's theme is 'Choose To Challenge' - which is why there's no better time to highlight some of the issues women still face in 2021.

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Prepare to *eye roll*...

Women are still fighting for equal rights every day (Credit: PA)
Women are still fighting for equal rights every day (Credit: PA)

Family life

Over the past year, lockdown has heaped further pressure on women around the world, and made the gap between men and women's roles impossible to ignore.

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Ahead of the pandemic, women were spending three times as many hours on unpaid domestic caring work as men, on average - an issue that's been compounded by vast proportions of the world's schools being closed, families having to stay indoors for long periods of time and limited childcare options.

Research for UN Women, carried out in November, showed that the amount of time women spend looking after their children had increased by 5.2 hours a week in the last year (compared to just 3.5 hours for men.)

Data also showed that parents are receiving seven per cent more help from their daughters than their sons around the house, suggesting that gender norms are still very much engrained into the next generation.

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How can we have a fighting chance at equality when we are still be expected to 'run the home'?

The findings show women still carry the bulk of responsibility at home (Credit: UN Women)
The findings show women still carry the bulk of responsibility at home (Credit: UN Women)

Work life

According to the Institute For Fiscal Studies, a large proportion of the industries shutting down due to Covid-19 have a 'traditionally female' workforce (36 per cent of young women had careers in sectors that have been closed down for long periods, like restaurants, shops, salons, leisure facilities and tourism, as opposed to 25 per cent of young men).

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Pregnant women are also bearing the brunt. A survey carried out by Pregnant Then Screwed found that a staggering 15 per cent of mothers had been made redundant, or expected to be, in the last year, with the pandemic being used as an excuse.

All this is worrying because experts have estimated women's progression in the workplace could now be set back by 'more than a decade', after years of real progress towards closing the gender pay gap.

As women, we make up 39 per cent of the global workforce, but suffer 54 per cent of overall job losses. Global action is needed - and it's needed now.

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Women are being disadvantaged in the workplace (Credit: Unsplash)
Women are being disadvantaged in the workplace (Credit: Unsplash)

Women's health

Despite more men dying of Covid-19, there's no denying that women's health has also taken a knock over the last year.

For one, there's the fact that many women have missed their smear tests - with Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust reporting a backlog in appointments due to the pandemic.

Plus, the coronavirus outbreak has "severely disrupted" access to sexual and reproductive health services that women across the world so vitally need (according to director of the UN Population Fund Dr. Natalia Kanem) - and reports suggest that routine care for endometriosis has been "severely disrupted", too.

Covid-19 aside, women's health has also taken some worrying knocks thanks to political decisions in the last year. In January, Poland enforced its near-total ban on abortions, stripping women of their rights and putting many in a position where they felt forced to undergo dangerous, illegal procedures.

Plus, here in the UK, transgender women (and men) were told they now have to petition the courts if they want to receive puberty blockers, following a judicial review - despite a study proving that the blockers save lives.

Amy Coney Barrett was also sworn into the US Supreme Court, bringing extremely conservative views on abortion and the Affordable Care Act, which could impact women's health for decades to come.

Poland's abortion ban came into place this year (Credit: PA)
Poland's abortion ban came into place this year (Credit: PA)

Education

Action Aid reports that around the world, 9 million girls of primary school age will never start school or enter a classroom, in comparison to three million boys.

The charity says that many girls are still dropping out of school because of "violence and prejudice" globally, with their lack of education further perpetuating gender inequality.

Worryingly, the pandemic could be making things worse for young girls, too.

Charity African Women Rising has found that many boys "will be prioritised" when it comes to sending kids back to school after lockdown, as some families won't be able to afford to fund all their children's educations, thanks to the economic knocks they have faced.

Plus, there are fears that healthcare cuts could result in more teen pregnancies, meaning girls have to quit education.

Plan International worry, as a result of this, that planned and forced marriages could be on the rise again, with Safeena Husain, founder of Educate Girls, stating she had heard an "alarming" number of stories which not only put girls in danger, but meant that "her likelihood of reentering a school is next to nothing."

Sexual abuse

Marilyn Manson faced sexual abuse claims this year (Credit: PA)
Marilyn Manson faced sexual abuse claims this year (Credit: PA)

Despite being in lockdown for most of this year, research from Plan UK showed that over 25 per cent of women actually feel less safe outside than before.

A quarter would rather not exercise outside alone, and - worst of all - a third have even reached a point where they have stopped leaving the house altogether, because the harassment became too much.

Online sex abuse soared by 106 per cent during lockdown, too, representing a very real threat to young girls (and boys) growing up in the digital age.

We've also seen more high-profile sexual abuse claims come to light, including allegations against rocker Marilyn Manson and actor Armie Hammer - both of whom deny any wrongdoing. Plus politician Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez shared her own harrowing story of sexual assault.

More striking than the fact that powerful men have managed to keep their actions secret for so long, in a post #MeToo world, is that people are still quick to brand the women who accuse them 'liars'. It seems little has changed since #Timesup first started trending.

Domestic violence

Domestic violence has risen during the pandemic (Credit: PA)
Domestic violence has risen during the pandemic (Credit: PA)

In their lifetimes, it's estimated that one in four women will suffer from intimate partner violence.

This has no doubt been exacerbated this year, too, given the 'stay at home' orders we have been under. ONS statistics revealed an increase in domestic abuse related offences during the first UK national lockdown alone, in comparison to the same time period in previous years.

The police recorded 259,324 domestic abuse-related incidents in between March to June 2020 - a seven per cent increase from 2019, and an 18 per cent increase from 2018 - with the largest month-on-month increase (9 per cent) taking place between April and May 2020.

While the government has injected some cash into the system, charities argue that facilities still aren't coping with increased demand.

Domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs has since urged the government to ensure the Domestic Abuse Bill - which will become law later this year - includes money to fund community services, claiming they're needed more than ever before.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Life, International Women's Day

Joanna Freedman
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