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International Women’s Day: Ongoing struggle for gender equality in care and pay

This week was International Women’s Day and as the pandemic has forced everyone to celebrate it in a virtual way, COFACE Families Europe took to the screens for an online study session on inequalities in care and pay in Europe. A much needed discussion as Covid-19 has worsened the situation, in particular within families, with women taking on even more care work and suffer more economically.

Gender equality in care and pay has always been a slow-paced struggle. The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) even calls it snail-paced. However, the unprecedented challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic has intensified unequal structures where women are once again those carrying the greatest burden of families and society.

A recent report from EIGE shows that there is not a single country in Europe where women and men spend an equal amount on care responsibilities. This so-called gender care gap has wider consequences and affects women in the labour market and in their pension. In her presentation, Blandine Mollard from EIGE illustrates how to address the unequal distribution of unpaid work, which involve accessible quality external services and equal sharing patterns. For the latter of those, policies need to be adopted to create incentives. On European level that means to fully transpose the Work-Life Balance Directive which was adopted in 2019 as well as developing a European strategy on social care and social protection to guide the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

In December 2020 there was already some progress with the Council Conclusions on gender equality from the German Presidency of the European Council. Thomas Fischer from the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth explained the interdependencies between the gender care gap and the gender pay gap and that only by a two-pronged approach can Europe achieve both equal pay and comprehensive equality on the labour market. First steps include sharing paid work and unpaid care work equally between women and men, and, secondly, public infrastructure and external services are crucial to allow for the “outsourcing” of care work.

The online discussion has made it once again clear that women’s struggle is perpetual and daily and if not tackled properly can worsen, as women all over Europe have experienced first-hand through the pandemic. The International Women’s Day 2021 marked therefore a perfect occasion to highlight gender inequalities in families and their wider consequences for women.

The struggle of women for gender equality in all aspects of life and their rights is not recent. French playwright Olympe de Gouge and her declaration of the rights of women and citizens in 1791 was one of the first activists for women’s rights in Europe, then came the suffragettes in the 1880s, followed by the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s driven by the desire to control her maternity, and the “me too” movement in 2017.

The future will surely see many more movements around the world, but a look back shows the importance of International Women’s Day and why it is still so relevant today. The origin of this day is rooted in numerous protests by women claiming the right to vote and better living conditions at the beginning of the 20th century. The first trace of a day dedicated to women’s rights dates back to 1908, in the United States, after a strike by textile workers calling for better working conditions and better wages. The American Socialist Party took up the claims and since 1909, every year at the end of February, the official day of women’s rights in the United States is celebrated.

In Europe, the creation of an “International Women’s Day” was first proposed in 1910 at the International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen by Clara Zetkin, a
German feminist. Following the decision agreed at Copenhagen in Denmark in 1911, International Women’s Day was honoured the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. The trigger for the consecration of March 8 was certainly a strike of working women in St. Petersburg in 1917, who demanded “bread and peace” and more equality between men and women.

In 1921, Lenin decided on an International Women’s Day and set the date, March 8, in memory of the women workers of St. Petersburg. After 1945, International Women’s Day became a worldwide tradition. And the manifestations took place across the world.

In 1975, the “International Year of the Woman” was declared by the United Nations in response to international feminist movements. But everyone realises that this is not enough, because it would require a year of the woman every year.

Thus, in 1977, March 8 was recognised as the official date of Women’s Rights Day by the General Assembly of the United Nations. It is therefore a day full of history and remembrance of feminist activists who fought for their fundamental rights. This day should be an opportunity to pay tribute to them and to keep up the struggle, rather than offering gifts to women or a day of marketing promotion on vacuum cleaners.

More historical information here:

Study Session presentations here.

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