Today is International Women’s Day; the time when, across the globe, we celebrate how far we have come in terms of equality, and reflect on how far we still have to go.
This year, the official United Nations theme for the 2013 International Women’s Day is, ‘A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women’. The Million women rise march, in London this Saturday, promises to be a success, following the amazing One Billion Rising in UK on 14th February, when millions of women rose to say that enough is enough.
The reality is that violence against women affects every society and every realm of life. In Britain, one in four women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime: 47 per cent of the women murdered since 1995, were killed by a partner or an ex-partner; over half of violent crime experienced by women is domestic abuse. These figures are staggering, and make you realise the statistical likelihood that many of the women you meet on the bus, at work, at the school gate, and in shops have suffered violence in their lifetime.
With cuts threatening our local services, these are hard times for women, and for the services on which they rely, such as the crucial support that women — often seeking refuge with young children — need to escape domestic abuse. Couple this with hospital and ambulance service cuts, the closure of police stations and cuts to safer neighbourhood teams, and Tory-led Britain looks grim for women.
In the latest issue of Fabiana magazine, Seema Malhotra MP says: “this government has a deep prejudice against women: a prejudice so deep that it has seen women hit hardest every time”.
Long-term unemployment has increased by over 100,000 since the election, and a shocking 89 per cent of that increase is among women. 98 per cent of those hit by child benefit changes since January are also women, including women on low pay, or those at home with small children, whose partners earn more than £50,000 a year.
New mothers are losing a huge total of £1,300 during pregnancy and their baby’s first year, owing to cuts in maternity pay, pregnancy support and tax credits. 401 Sure Start centres have been closed, leaving many women and families with little support.
Recent reports show that childcare costs have increased by a further 5 per cent, when we, in Britain, already have the second highest childcare costs of any country apart from Switzerland: 26.6 per cent of the average family income, compared to an OECD average of 11.8 per cent.
We rank sixteenth in the OECD, in terms of mothers going to work: 67.1 per cent of mothers, compared to 84 per cent in Denmark, 78.5 per cent in the Netherlands, and 73.6 per cent in France.
I find it astonishing that at the same moment a woman was telling me about the terrible pressure she is under, George Osborne was busy in Brussels, arguing about how cutting bankers’ bonuses could endanger the British economy: a minister, belonging to Britain’s elite 1 per cent, standing up for bankers’ bonuses, while millions of families are struggling to make ends meet.
And it gets worse. When evoking repatriation of powers from Brussels, what the Tories want is to stop the interference of European law in relation to: maternity rights, which ensure that when you become pregnant, you do not get the sack; protection for employees when companies go bust; discrimination on the workplace and paid annual leave. In David Cameron’s mind, all these can go: women are easily sacrificed on the altar of his party’s management issues.
The problem is that austerity policies come at a high price, and not just in terms of our finances. Austerity takes us back 30 years, to the roles of the male breadwinner and the stay-at-home mother, who realises that it is too expensive to go out and work.
This is not only happening in Britain, but also on the continent. So as it is International Women’s Day, let us be truly international. Women across the globe are bearing the brunt of hunger, poverty and violence. All across Europe, austerity has hit women hardest: we are at the sharp end of the crisis, with the squeeze in living standards eroding the independence and freedom we thought we had achieved.
The good news is that women are ready to fight back.
The success of the Fabian Women’s Network, the Labour Women’s Network, Labour feminists, the End Against Violence Women Campaign, Object, Pink Stinks, Platform51, the Campaign against Page 3, the Fawcett Society, Everyday Sexism, and many, many others, demonstrates that a third wave of feminism has started.
It is time for us all, women and men, to embrace it.