OPINION | Celebrating International Women’s Day, fighting for the future

Lily Mae Lazarus, Views Editor

Everyday, women in the U.S. fight for body autonomy, equality and respect. For each glass ceiling broken, another seems to appear. Gender inequality is not exclusive to the U.S. Rather, global aggregate gender parity rests at 68.6%. Although times are changing, both domestically and on an international scale, equality of the sexes remains a distant future. 

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, which took place on March 8, it is imperative to acknowledge lasting gender issues in our society. International Women’s Day honors women’s achievements in social, economic, cultural and political arenas and brings attention to women’s rights and gender parity. Specifically, the day memorializes the 1908 Socialist Party of America’s protest when 15,000 women marched against long work hours, low pay and a lack of voting rights. Today, 113 years later, gender inequality still plagues American society. 

In a country that touts values of equality and freedom, American exceptionalism shows deep hypocrisy when it comes to women’s rights. The U.S. ranks 15th on the Freedom Index, yet lags at 53rd in terms of gender parity. It would take 151 years to close the gender gap at its current rate of change, which has become stagnant in recent years. Yet, more than half of the men in the U.S. believe sexism is a relic of the past while 63% of women report that discrimination makes their lives more difficult. Celebrating International Women’s Day is important, but constant advocacy for long-overdue change is necessary. 

A century ago, women in the U.S. would never have imagined a female vice president, let alone a woman of color in the White House. While Kamala Harris’ political accomplishments are groundbreaking, she is an anomaly in terms of women’s representation in politics. In the past 50 years, 85 countries have had no female heads of state and women hold a slim 25% of global parliamentary positions. Yet, it is proven that women’s leadership in politics promotes bipartisanship, equality and stability. In the U.S. specifically, women in the U.S. Senate are more likely to find common ground and pass legislation than their male counterparts. Though there are 24 female Senators, only 27% of Congress members are women

Having more women in politics promotes peace, a concept most rational individuals support. More often than not, women take a collaborative approach to peacemaking by bridging cultural and sectarian divides. In Israel and Palestine, women have repeatedly built cross-cultural coalitions to lead nonviolent efforts promoting security and basic services. The likelihood of reaching peace agreements also increases when women are included in negotiations because they are viewed as honest brokers and often employ visible commitments to the success of peace agreements. Some of this is attributed to the different social roles and responsibilities of women compared to men. This allows them access to information and community networks necessary to successful peace negotiations and areas of agreement. In all, higher levels of women’s political participation are associated with a lower risk of civil war and a reduced likelihood of state-sponsored political violence

Apart from female political representation, gender inequity in the labor force continues to thwart women’s achievements. As of 2020, only 55% of all women aged 15 to 64 are engaged in the labor force compared to 78% of men. If this figure is not startling enough, women are vastly underrepresented in positions of power, with only 7% of Fortune 500 companies having female CEOs. In other words, women employed by 93% of these corporations work under male figureheads. 

Why might this be? Successful captains of industry are thought to possess traits like assertiveness, a characteristic often associated with men. Gender stereotypes that label women as emotional, subservient and unable to make decisions keep women at the bottom of the totem pole in corporate spheres, despite women’s ability to perform at an equal capacity as an executive. Without women in corporate positions of power, other women with dreams of running their own companies and being successful lack relatable role models and mentors imperative to the accomplishment of their dreams. 

An estimated 42% of women report they have experienced gender discrimination in the work place. These examples of discrimination include earning less than their male colleagues, being passed over for jobs or assignments and sexual harassment. One in four working women report they earn less than men doing the same job and women are four times more likely to be treated as less competent at their job on the basis of gender. As of 2018, women earned 81.1% of their male counterparts’ annual salaries. Additionally, women are three times more likely to experience sexual harassment at their place of work. These figures are discouraging to women who — despite their qualifications and their ability to perform — are rewarded and regarded to a lesser standard than men of equal standing.

This is not to say that great improvements have not been made in gender equality. In fact, women have surpassed men in receiving baccalaureate and doctoral degrees and the percentage of women in the workforce has drastically increased since the 1970s. Most notably, a woman won the popular vote in the U.S. presidential election in 2016. While these improvements are worth celebrating, they cannot be used as sufficient proof of gender equality. 

If the U.S. hopes to preserve its image of a utopian society, the promotion of women in all sectors must become a priority and the younger generation must dismantle the notions of the past. Additionally, an active effort must be made to address the barriers to female success that not only hinder women’s achievements, but the development of the nation as a whole. Women must come together across party lines, as they have proved capable of doing, to support one another rather than contributing to the isolationist practices that have held women below men for far too long.

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