Celebrating International Women

Celebrating International Women’s Day 8th March 2013

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights” Gloria Steinem.

For over 100 years women have globally supported and celebrated International Women’s Day. This date in the diary supports and helps to celebrate and raise the profile of women linking this to their equality of opportunities whether this is locally, regionally or on a global basis.  There are 1000’s of event taking place all around the world to acknowledge the achievements of women worldwide.

Many would argue why we need to engage in such activities, the facts speak for themselves, whilst girls outperform boys in school and a record number of young women are attending university, this does not translate into career opportunities and women taking their place in leadership and decision making  roles.

Across the UK today, women are dramatically underrepresented in position of power and influence – be it politics, business, or any other walk of life. Moreover, the lack of women at the top table of politics sends a clear signal to other walks of life: it is acceptable to cut women out from positions of power. This should be of concern for all as it impacts all the women and girls and the equality of access to opportunities.  Where policy and spending decisions directly impact the ability of women to make career choices, a radical change needs to be made to the equality of access to opportunities.

At the current rate of change, a child born today will be drawing her pension before she sees equal numbers of men and women in the House of Commons. The Equality and Human Rights Commission estimates that it will take 14 general elections to achieve parity in Parliament. At a local level, just 13 per cent of local authority council leaders are women. Since, the government decision to close down the Women’s National Commission a direct voice to government and policy, there is no longer a direct link and this dilutes any possibility of change.

In the world of business and power women are estimated to be responsible for about 70 per cent of household purchasing power, make up 46per cent of the economically active workforce, and over half of university graduates. Therefore, a clear business case for organisations to ensure that they a diverse board managing their organisation as noted Lord Davies Report: Women on Boards (February 2011), companies with more women on their boards were found to outperform their rivals with a 42 per cent higher return in sales, 66 per cent higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity. However, the Cranfield Report: Women on Boards 2011, notes that the women’s average representation in the business world stands at a derisory 10.2 per cent and only 16 per cent of Directors in FTSE 100 boards are women.  With legal top jobs, only 15 per cent of High Court Judges are women and there is only one female Supreme Court Justice, Baroness Hale.

Where women do find positions of power and influence; it is more likely to be in the public and voluntary sectors. Women make up 43 per cent of Chief Executives in the Voluntary sector. Interestingly in education, women account for the majority of full-time teachers across Great Britain, but just over a third of secondary school head teachers.

We can continue to debate why International Women’s Day should be in the calendar however, our energy should be more concerned with how we need to improve and change of equality of access to opportunities to support the next generation of all genders.

Rajinder Bhuhi from the University of Leicester is Chair LeicestHERday Trust.

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