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The Week That Was: She Says

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It seems appropriate on Mother's Day to be writing about a week when women dominated the headlines.

True, it wasn't always for the right reasons (Vicky Pryce doesn't need her many years as an economist to understand the true price of revenge after her time in court this week), but Friday's International Women's Day shone the spotlight on much good that is being done, the world over, in the name of women's rights.

Maybe that is a rather rosy-hued look at IWD, which has spawned numerous surveys and reports into how bad, women the world over have it right now, but let's start with a few positives.

For anyone wanting a reminder of how far the world has come, this map from 777voting.com tracks women's voting rights across the globe since 1892, as well as providing snap-shots of women's rights in every country today. The data speaks for itself, with numbers that will make you smile, but plenty that'll make you want to tear your hair out.

Staying positive for just a few paragraphs more, MP Justine Greening, the international development secretary, announced this week that Britain is set to increase its financial support for women and girls in some of the world's poorest countries, and also pledged to end female genital mutilation for British-born girls within a generation.

In the US, President Obama offset a little of the debt he owes the millions of women who voted him back into a second season in office, when he signed a 'reauthorisation' of the Violence Against Women Act on Thursday. In its first instance back in 1994, the act made domestic and sexual abuse against women illegal, and, according to Obama, is the reason it is "okay for us as a society to talk about domestic abuse".

Ready for the bad news now? IWD was also an opportunity to remind everyone how much is still left to be done before equality is a reality, rather than an aspiration.

The pay gap shows no sign of closing, despite politicians suggesting otherwise. And that's no big surprise when it starts with female graduates still earning thousands less than their male counterparts in their first jobs.

For once, it doesn't appear that this has anything to do with so-called 'female' careers Vs male ones. In fact, in news that strikes paranoia, if not downright fear, into the heart of a journalist, the author of the Futuretrack study, which was commissioned by Higher Education Careers Services Unit, makes a point of using the media industry as a case study of where it's all going wrong.

"It is difficult to see why this is, for example, female graduates of media related subjects are no more or less numerous than their male counterparts yet their earnings are typically lower. Of the Futuretrack respondents there were fewer men than women in law, yet there is an even greater male lead on earnings," said Jane Artess, director of research at Hecsu.

"Since it would be unlawful for employers to pay males and females doing the same job differently, something else must be happening to female graduate earnings. If we look at wages by sector, the male lead is persistent in the public and private sectors, in graduate workplaces and also in graduate and non-graduate job roles. The only area where female pay is equal to males is in the not-for-profit sector."

Short of all recent grads swamping the inboxes of Oxfam's HR department with hastily rewritten CVs, there's an imbalance here, which needs urgent attention. If we get it right for graduates, it stands to reason the pay gap won't be quite so jarring years ahead.

Crucial to the right pay is, of course, the right jobs, and there's still a hell of a lot that needs doing in that little area. As HuffPost's Charlie Thomas reported this week, even on our high street (where I'd argue women are making a large chunk of the purchasing decisions), retailers are still staffing their boards with men.

Topshop & New Look? No women on the boards at all. Boots, Primark and Next? Just a single female board member apiece. And people wonder why the high street is in the mess it is.

Every year in early March, when IWD swings round again, there's one guarantee, someone somewhere will write about why we don't need it, and question why there isn't an equivalent for men. The smaller pay cheques at home, and the terrifying increases in sexual violence against women abroad, says we still need it, and sadly are likely to do so for many, many years ahead.