Over a hundred years ago the the Socialist Party of America celebrated the very first Women’s Day. A few years later women from 17 countries took up the idea and empowering the working woman became the main focus.
Equal rights was the driving force behind Women’s Day, with the right to vote the highest on the top of the list. Thankfully, after years of demonstrations, that right was given in many countries across the globe – but it took a long time and many may be surprised to read that women couldn’t vote in Switzerland until 1971, in Portugal it took until 1976 and Lichtenstein only granted the right in 1984. Saudi Arabia took even longer and only allowed the first women to vote last year (2015) in December.
But sadly equality is still a big issue – women still don’t earn the same as men, and across the globe women still do not have equal representation in politics and finances. So while women may have been able to break in to middle management they are still few and far between in top level jobs in every industry.
Gender quotas seem to be the only way to make this change, maybe sadly, but it has proven to work. And looking at Ireland’s latest election the prove was on the posters, twice as many women were up for election than 2011. Since the foundation of the state in 1916 there has only ever been 91 women elected, that isn’t even one a year. Between 1992 and the last elections in 2011 there was only five women in the Dail, in 2011 that changed to 25 but that still was only 15% of the 166 seats, now, after the election a few weeks ago, there are an additional 10 – a total of 35 women now sit between the men.
A bigger issue in Ireland is however a women’s right to her body – abortion is still illegal, forcing hundreds of women to travel if they chose to not have a baby. And whether the choice is based on health reasons, financial ones or just because a women may not want to become a mother is irrelevant in the eyes of the law.
I wonder if the women back in 1909 thought it would take this long for change to happen, and I wonder why we have changed the agenda from empowerment to celebration when so much is still not achieved.