International Women’s Day matters – here’s why

Branwen Cleaver

Today marks International Women’s Day. Another year has passed, and in reflection we have seen some important changes.

The 5% tax on female sanitary products still exists. However, in July and August of 2017, Tesco and Waitrose both began subsidising this tax by cutting the price of sanitary products by 5%.

Organisations have begun to collect and distribute sanitary provisions for homeless women and girls, such as Matthew’s House in Swansea.

Victims of sexual assault and rape are being encouraged to speak out, after years of society perpetuating victim blaming. The #MeToo movement and the exposure of sex offenders within Hollywood, such as Harvey Weinstein, have given women a platform to discuss their experiences.

One third of women have experienced sexual assault of some kind, and many women never speak up about it. Only 8% of rape cases end in a conviction, and victims are often cross-examined and blamed.

I hope that the #MeToo movement will continue, and that the extent of sexual assault against women is discussed more. We have all experienced it, or know someone who has gone through it. We must all work towards removing the victim-blaming culture that exists in our society.

From July 2017, Scotland began a six-month pilot to provide free sanitary provisions for 1,000 women and girls from low income homes in Aberdeen. The pilot was successful, and raised awareness of period poverty.

Despite these breakthroughs, we must also acknowledge the extent to which women are still disadvantaged in our society.

Virgin Money, Ladbrokes and EasyJet came forward this year and stated that their female employers earn, on average, 15% less than their male counterparts.

The World Economic Forum stated in 2017 that the gender pay gap is not expected to close for another 100 years, declining from 83 years in 2016.

Women and others who experience menstruation are given insufficient sanitary provisions whilst in prison, and can be sanctioned for having too many sanitary provisions in their room at one time.

Menstruation costs women on average £5,000 over their lifetime, with the 5% tax contributing to £250 of that cost, due to it being classed as a ‘luxury product.’ Women and girls who do not have access to these provisions due to their expense often miss work and school, leading to gaps in their education and economic loss.

In some Third World countries, girls are missing school due to a lack of sanitary provision and have even been made to stay in dark, unclean cowsheds during menstruation.

Women are still under-represented in Parliament, with a total of 450 women being elected into the House of Commons between 1918 and 2015. There are 618 MPs elected into Parliament per year.

As another year passes, we must celebrate what has been achieved in the name of equality for women, but also recognise how much work lies ahead of us in order to gain equality.

Equality should not have to be gained – it should be a given right. We must strive to make it so.