Celebrating Women's History Month in the UK
To know what women can achieve and the obstacles that still face us/them is vital in the quest for gender equality. That's why Women's History Month is a vital opportunity to discuss, remember and push forward the ideas of women long gone, and, in some cases misremembered, forgotten, or deliberately written out of history. How perverse, then, that this sacrosanct month brought news of London's only feminist library facing closure thanks to its council deciding, after seven years, to charge rent.
But women simply aren’t taking it; thanks to social media, consciousness raising has stepped up and nearly 16,000 campaigners have signed a petition calling for Southwark Council to maintain its funding of this Great British institution, which houses an incomparable collection of over 7,000 books, 1,500 periodical titles from around the world and more. Protest isn't only reserved for those behind their computers. Sisters Uncut, the secretive direct action group seeking to highlight problems facing women caused by the government’s austerity measures, launched a poster campaign to raise consciousness of how women’s services would be further cut in March’s budget announcement. Featuring Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's face, the old Wild West-style 'Wanted' posters read: 'WANTED: George Osborne. FOR DESTROYING WOMEN'S SERVICES.' According to Sisters Uncut, services and refuges for victims of domestic violence have been cut by 30 percent since 2010. On top of this, there is no ring-fenced funding for specialist domestic violence services and charities which help black and minority ethnic victims. One such charity, Imkaan, found that 67 percent of their affiliates’ services “felt uncertain about their sustainability in the current climate." One pro-woman announcement in the budget — the scrapping of the tampon tax — presented a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s 2016 and why should women have their sanitary items taxed as a 'luxury.' On the other? Come August of this year, the women's services which received income from the tampon tax — cancer charities, women's refuges — will no longer get that funding.
Cutting a 5 percent tax on products all menstruating women still have to pay for might not seem like a big deal, but symbolic moves towards fairness mean so much more when you consider how hard fairness is to come by. In the knowledge that only 15 percent of the U.K.'s listed statues are of women, campaigners renewed calls this month to see female pioneers such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Sylvia Pankhurst given their own statues. And this month British historian Dr Amanda Foreman's TV series, "The Ascent of Woman," which tells the forgotten (and sometimes buried) stories of female firsts over the past 10,000 years was made available internationally via Netflix. In light of the fact new school syllabuses for philosophy would feature not one female thinker, it is an enlightening series giving women — young and old - security in the knowledge their desire for equality has been shared by women over several millennia.
Not that female role models were restricted to those in years gone by, as female MPs, despite only comprising 29 percent of all MPs, made valiant efforts to right gender equality's wrongs this Women's History Month.
On International Women's Day (8th March), Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, took the time to read out, one by one, the names of all of the women killed by domestic violence in the past year. Taking seven minutes to read out the 121 names, the former domestic violence charity worker said she wanted to "honour every victim." Dawn Butler, Labour MP for Brent Central, also spoke out about the racism and sexism she received when a white male MP mistook her for a cleaner.
On the other benches, Maria Miller, Conservative MP for Basingstoke called for compulsory sex education in schools, and using data found by the women and equalities committee which she chairs, showed that the gender pay gap of 19.2 percent has barely improved in the past four years despite the government's promise to end it. Calling on her party leader to make the change he's promised, she said: "The Prime Minister should be more ambitious. If that is your ambition, Prime Minister, you need to look at your policies long and hard to see if you’re going to achieve that."
While one Bristol company did one better than addressing a gender pay gap, by beginning to offer female employees menstrual leave, sadly the same can’t be said of most British employers. Research released to coincide with International Women's Day found that the average British woman will earn £300,000 less than the average man over the a lifetime. Alongside this, a third of British women have fallen behind on household bills and one in ten had racked up debts exceeding £10,000. Showing the full spectrum of gender disparity in the world of work, it was found that even City traders' bonuses are unequal. Though data suggests the pay gap disappears in younger women, what can be said of their futures should they decide to parent? Government data showed three out of four working mothers faced maternity discrimination. As for young women apprentices? Data shows they can expect a lower career progression, less in-job training and a gender pay gap of 18.7 percent.
The hope with finding this data, is this is evidence to be provided in every attempt to redress the gender imbalance. So after a survey conducted by YouGov and the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), showed that 85 percent of women aged between 18 and 24 have been harassed, over a quarter of them under 16 when it first happened to them, Sarah Green, the Acting Director of EVAW said: "Sexual harassment is an everyday experience which women and girls learn to deal with, but it's time to hold a mirror up to it and challenge it. If women are planning their lives around not being harassed or assaulted, they are not free."
As the UK's future as a nation in or out of the EU looms, British feminist campaigners are seeking to introduce more than tougher immigration rules to the world’s women. So women detained at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Centre were given hope from protesters outside, calling for its closure. Since March’s protests — including the Women for Refugee Women’s #SetHerFree protest — the government has now promised to no longer detain expectant mothers longer than 72 hours. And at the launch of Care International's Walk In Her Shoes campaign, which encourages people to walk 10,000 steps a day in solidarity with the women and girls in the world’s poorest countries who see opportunities draining away with every day spent fetching water, MAKER Annie Lennox told hundreds in the crowd: "There is still so much more to be done in terms of creating transformative change towards a fairer and more equitable world."
The ongoing fight for so many of the things that could expedite gender equality: equal safety, equal pay, equal recognition of our many achievements, continues. And in one month, perhaps not every goal was achieved. But history wasn’t made in a month, and luckily, the recognition of women’s rights continues, every single day of the year, every month until we get what we deserve.
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