THE BLOG

International Women's Day: Not Much to Celebrate Yet

08/03/2016 10:31 GMT | Updated 04/03/2017 10:12 GMT

Women across the world are still being denied careers and education, sometimes in the name of religion, but always because of prejudice.

So we need action now, not just more attention, as we mark International Women's Day on March 7. There is still a mountain to climb.

The World Economic Forum estimates that gender parity will not now be achieved until 2133, several generations longer than its prediction only last year.

So, more than 200 years after the Industrial Revolution brought women into the workplace in vast numbers, we wait another 117 for parity with the men we live and work alongside?

That is simply unacceptable. Gender inequality, as measured by pay, education and opportunities, is arguably the last great prejudice and should be treated accordingly. Not with rolling (male) eyes and reluctantly set 'targets', but with legal action backed up by penalties including - perhaps - trade and aid sanctions.

What is being denied women is often cloaked in societal values, just as prejudice against homosexuality was and remains in some places.

But concerted effort by politicians, artists and opinion formers have changed attitudes to being gay in much of the world, and within a generation.

There is little such systematic effort evident to deal with the often misogynistic misery inflicted against women over much of our planet; or even in advanced nations, where a pernicious prejudice remains.

Take the UK. Women visibly fill most of the lower paid clerical jobs and seem only reluctantly allowed into top boardrooms. The softer, so-called 'caring' professions, invariably less remunerative, are where they end up, just as they did a generation ago and the one before that.

There are still very few women in most professions, and they are certainly not half the numbers in any of them.

At a very basic level, not enough is done to encourage flexible working in this country. But it starts much earlier. Schools should do much more to draw on female mentors from their areas, people prepared to come in and talk about life as lawyers, accountants, entrepreneurs, soldiers and farmers.

Women are also often their own worst enemy, pulling up the drawbridge behind them and not helping others.

But men hold the key and must be encouraged to take this seriously. It is hard not to wonder if homosexuality had been confined to women whether gay rights would ever have advanced as they did.

The continuing male bias in Western countries is, we have all diplomatically been told, largely unconscious. Perhaps. Or is it just disguised?

Not much else explains the steeper path to advancement, equal pay and access to jobs that plainly still exists.

The frustration is what a nonsense it all is. Research and just plain common sense suggests that the global economy would be richer and the human condition advanced by parity. Women are not just half the global workforce, they represent 70 per cent of global demand.

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development has estimated that GDP in the developed world would increase by 12 per cent within 20 years if equality was achieved.

If for no other reason than sound economics, women must be given greater opportunities. Until the pace of change is forced, International Women's Day is one on which to commiserate, not celebrate.