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International Women's Day

Published date
Today marks International Women’s Day a celebration rooted in commemorating the industrial action taken by young migrant women workers during the New York International Ladies Garment Worker Strike, 1909.

This year, the theme is Count Her In: Accelerating Gender Equality Through Economic Empowerment. This week, at our annual women’s conference, we’ve seen motions from delegates on topics ranging from the gender pension gap to job evaluation in the NHS, as well as looking at flexible working and equity in treatment for firefighters’ maternity pay. We know that for women economic empowerment is an important step on the way to equality.  

But in the same week, we’ve seen the Chancellor fail to deliver a budget that works for women.  Instead, we have a pre-election budget that pins its hopes on productivity in overstretched public services and slight-of-hand tax cuts that do more harm than good.  

For women at work, things need to change. We need to abolish zero-hours contracts – we know that black women are nearly three times more likely to be on precarious contracts than white men. We need the introduction of a £15 minimum wage as soon as possible. We need to reverse the real terms cuts to public sector pay and address the recruitment crisis in the care workforce.  

We also know that women are more likely to have to reduce hours and earnings to manage unpaid caring responsibilities. Women are seven times more likely than men to be out of the jobs market because they have given up or cut down paid work because they can’t find or afford the right care for their children or older or disabled relatives. And this rises to 12 times more likely if they are BME. Properly funded and accessible child and social care is at the heart of gender justice. It will bring us closer to allowing women to work in a way that works for them. 

But women’s experiences at work aren’t solely about their earning power. There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that women in the UK can go to work free from discrimination, unfair treatment and abuse. There is also much to be done to ensure our sisters globally enjoy dignity, equality and freedom from harm too.   The ITUC estimates that globally women earn approximately 20% less than men.   

In many global south countries where underdevelopment by the north has undermined domestic industries and decent jobs, women are particularly likely to be forced into informal or precarious employment with low pay and often dangerous conditions. 

We spoke at conference this week about the huge challenges we face in eradicating sexual harassment in the workplace and embarked upon new research looking at the experiences of sexual violence of black women specifically. We heard from unions about provisions to support women navigating the menopause at work, and help women workers manage health, safety and wellbeing.  

Today, we celebrate the collective action that unions, women workers and feminists around the world will be taking, including the CTA union centre in Argentina’s ‘Seremos Tsunami'.women’s movement, the feminist strike in France and the care strike in the early childhood education sector in Australia, .  

And we celebrate achievements such as unions in Peru winning legal protections for domestic workers and unions in Mauritius winning minimum wage for cleaners and workers in Export Processing Zones – the majority of whom are women. 

As we head towards a general election, women will be looking for commitments that will make a real difference to their working lives and living standards. 

Labour has clearly set out their vote-winning offer for women through the New Deal for Working People. As we mark this International Women’s Day, it’s high time others matched it too. 

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