International Women’s Day (IWD) is a beautiful opportunity not only to honor the women in our lives, but also to acknowledge the progress that’s been made on the road toward gender equality. In the past year alone, we’ve seen Sierra Leone lift bans on pregnant girls attending school, free menstrual products for women in Scotland, and here at home, we have our first female vice president.
But there are still persistent issues women face that need to change. The IWD website describes its purpose to be “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality.” The 2021 theme of International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge. “A challenged world is an alert world,” the site explains. “Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions—all day, every day.”
Women across the globe, as well as in our own communities, face stubborn roadblocks to equality, but there are ways we can use our voices and gifts to make a difference. The following are key issues facing women today and some suggestions for how you can take action today.
Human trafficking is a pervasive issue; the International Labor Organization reported in 2017 that more than 24.9 million individuals were trafficked worldwide. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women reports that 72 percent of these victims are women and children.
Human trafficking can be hidden in plain sight. In a 2018 video aimed toward service workers who enter people’s homes—electricians, painters, and so on—the Michigan State Police indicated what signs to look for that may identify a potential case of human trafficking. “When you know what to look for,” the video says, “you can help bring an end to human trafficking.”
What you can do
• Learn the signs of human trafficking cases.
• Stop consuming hypersexualized media, such as porn, that fuels the demand for sex trafficking and prostitution.
• Visit Destiny Rescue to help end sexual slavery, trafficking, and exploitation.
• Shop from Freedom Studios’ line of candles, bath bombs, soaps, and other self-care items, where all proceeds help support human trafficking survivors and advocacy.
Like human trafficking, domestic violence can be easily disguised, but it is endemic across the globe, with one in four women reporting abuse and, of those women, 1 in five needing medical care, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The World Health Organization also reports that 35 percent of women globally have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence from a domestic partner.
Domestic violence, also like human trafficking, can easily be misconstrued or oversimplified; domestic violence is not just physical abuse. It can include stalking, severe manipulation, gaslighting, financial or economic abuse, and more.
What you can do
• Visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline to donate, learn more about identifying abuse, and discover ways to help others who may be experiencing domestic abuse.
• Shop One Love’s clothes and accessories to support the One Love Foundation, which educates young people on healthy relationships and how to identify abuse.
The United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs reports that in 2019, one in five women were married before the age of 18. Girls who marry before the age of 18, according to UNICEF, are more likely to experience domestic violence, are less likely to receive a full education, and experience worse health than girls of their same age who are unmarried.
While this issue largely affects rural, marginalized areas across the globe, the United States is not immune. According to child marriage service and advocacy group Unchained at Last, approximately 248,000 children under 18 were married from 2000 to 2010; 77 percent of these girls were married to adult men. Only four states have fully outlawed child marriage.
What you can do
• Visit Girl Up or Unchained at Last to donate and learn more about the movement to outlaw child marriage in the United States.
• Donate to Catholic Relief Services which fights child marriage across the globe among other initiatives.
The decades-long fight for workplace equality for women faced another significant hurdle in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic and its residual unemployment rates. New metrics circulated on the internet early this year reporting that 140,000 jobs were lost in December 2020, and all of those lost jobs had been held by women. In fact, as a Fortune article points out, the loss was even greater: the 140,000 jobs lost is a net figure; 156,000 jobs held by women were lost, while men gained 16,000 jobs.
The American Association of University Women also reports that in the first half of 2020, young mothers lost jobs at three times the rate of young fathers. Women who do remain employed, according to the report, are earning an average of 82 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make. The disparity grows when race is factored in; in 2019, Black women made 63 cents for each white male’s dollar.
While the exact figures of what women are paid compared to men are often debated (in 2015, Christine Emba wrote for Verily that when adjusted to account for hours worked, type of employment, and other factors, the wage gap is tightened to 91 cents to the dollar), still, a gap remains, and, Emba observes, “women are four times less likely than men to ask for higher starting salaries or raises later on, and shy away from rocking the boat with aggressive negotiation.”
What you can do
• Do research on your industry, and if you think you need to ask for a raise, read tips on how to gracefully ask for a raise to ensure you’re earning what you’re worth, and encourage the women in your life to consider the same.
• Research whether there is any legislation in the works in your city, state, or on the federal level that you think could effectively help close the wage gap, and then write to your representatives to ask them to support legislation you believe will help.
Another obstacle for women seeking equality in the workplace is the challenge of suitable and affordable childcare. American Progress reports that, “in 2016 alone, an estimated 2 million parents made career sacrifices due to problems with childcare; these sacrifices disproportionately affect mothers, who are more likely to take on unpaid childcare responsibilities.
In the first three months of the pandemic alone, mothers of children between ages one and five reduced their hours at 4.5 times the rate that fathers did in order to accommodate their children’s needs.
Outside of the pandemic’s impact, Paid Leave for the United States reports that one in four mothers returns to work just 10 days after childbirth, and one in six people spend an average of 20 hours per week caring for family members.
What you can do
• If you know a working mother who is struggling to meet her childcare needs, offer to spend time watching her children a couple of hours a week.
• Look for local or national charities working to provide families with the childcare they need. If you belong to a faith community, reach out to their office of social justice or charitable works to see if they can point you toward an effective organization.
• Research campaigns and legislation in your city, state, or on the national level that you think could effectively increase paid leave for parents.
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