There are so many national holidays, public holidays, events, theme weeks and anniversaries to celebrate. Some of them have more merit than others. For example, St Patrick’s Day is on 17th March, not long to wait now! I am already stocking up on Guinness and Tayto Cheese and Onion crisps. It is a day for songs, shamrocks, socialising and celebrating all that Ireland has to offer the world – starting with Saints and Scholars and working forward from there!
So what about International Women’s Day? What does that stand for? What are we celebrating? The key theme this year is to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. So that got me thinking, what changes and progress have I seen women achieve?
What social, economic, cultural and political achievements have I got to show for myself? What have I seen change and how have I marked my time marked on this planet?
Well socially, I feel I am on track! I am at a time and place in my life where my social life revolves around those who bring joy, peace and positive challenges to my life and I can hopefully bring the same to theirs. And if that involves a good glass of wine in the mix, then all to the good.
Economically, well my earnings have fluctuated severely over the years. A seemingly good salary became paltry once I became a mother, and returning to work meant having to organise and pay for childcare. There came a point where I was trying to work out if I was breaking even between the salary coming in and the childcare payments going out.
In the UK we have some of the highest childcare costs in Europe. Then add to that mix the fact that the gender gap in the UK currently stands at 14.2%. So as women we work the same hours, in the same role, and yet in many of those roles we are getting paid less than our male colleagues. Then to top it all, out of that unfairly depleted salary we have to pay some of the most expensive childcare costs in the UK.
The good news is the wake-up siren coming from those in the 16-25 age group, who are better informed in this digital information age than ever before. It was heartening to see the reaction of my teenage son and daughter when we discussed equal pay. The fact that women could be employed in the same role as men, do the same hours, perform the same tasks and still receive less pay for the same job was greeted by them with incomprehension and then outrage. That’s the thing about teenagers, they generally have a much more heightened sense of what is fair and equitable because they are not yet disillusioned by life’s experiences and long may that last.
What about culturally, how much have women achieved in this arena? We are all conditioned to accept the older male actor with the young actress as the norm on screen, but rarely do we see a movie starring an older actress with a young actor. In fact that would be the key discussion point of the film should it happen.
And I find it depressing to see successful actresses metamorphosise into tight-faced, puffy-lipped, cosmetically altered versions of themselves.
However, there are some powerful cultural role models for women to look up to in all cultural fields. But one recent comment caused me to think. It was when I was watching the Breakfast News in a hotel reception area. At one point there were two main presenters on screen, alongside a sports reporter and two guests. Nothing unusual in that, except for the fact that a man sitting near me stared at the screen and then commented ‘Look at that, five people all talking about the news and four of them are women!’ I wonder if he would have even noticed or commented if it had been four men and one woman chatting to us about world events from a TV studio. Perhaps if it had been a fashion or magazine show, then thought would not have crossed his mind, nor the comment pass his lips?
When I was studying Politics as an undergraduate, only 5% of MPs were women and that was when we had our first women Prime Minister. How did that particular glass ceiling not get smashed then? Did Margaret Thatcher slam it shut on the way up? At least we are moving in the right direction. The latest figures show that women now account for 29% of all MPs. While women are still proportionally under-represented in government and politics, the fact that 29% of MPs are women represents a record high. So we are moving in the right direction. Maybe we should focus on not just more women MPs, but women MPs of all ages with all of life’s energy and experiences to bring to bear. They could fix the political imbalance, the economic gender gap, and if they could sing, paint or act as well throw a great party, then we would have the social and cultural boxes ticked too!