Sunday, 10 March 2013

One step forward, two steps back


International Women's Day

Friday was International Women's Day, a chance to celebrate how far we have come, talk about women we admire and think about how far we still have to go.

The UN used the occasion to highlight its work to stop violence against women, providing the sobering estimate that up to 70% of women will be beaten, raped, abused, or mutilated in their lifetimes.

The Home Secretary Theresa May (second on the Woman's Hour Power List) asked for an end to domestic violence against women and girls in the UK and the rest of the world. It's great that a successful and powerful woman like May would stand up and use her influence to try and improve the lot for women around the globe. She doesn't have to do that.

Although it shows how far we still have to go, International Women's Day is a step forward, inching us closer to equality . In 1909, when the first Women's Day was held in America, women didn't yet have the vote on either side of the Atlantic. Women's role in society were wives and mothers, they weren't supposed to aspire to be independent or influential. Now we can be all of these things, and that is something to celebrate. 

Mother's Day

What's not to like about Mother's Day? It should be a chance for us all to celebrate the person who brought us into the world and has done so much for us. Well, it should be. 

In reality Mother's Day is a commercial concept, for which businesses fall back on every feminine stereotype they can to get our business. It's greeting cards that get me going. Buying cards always takes me ages, and is invariably disappointing. It's disappointing because of the vast selection of cards I have to plough through, the stereotypical messages I have to encounter, and the sorry offering that I end up taking away with me at the end. 

This year's selection suggested that mothers were mainly interested in cupcakes (what is this weird obsession for cupcakes?) and the colour pink. The idea that mothers might just be normal human beings with a healthy range of interests is not considered. She's your mum therefore she'd like nothing more than a picture of a cupcake to prop on her mantlepiece. 

Mother's Day should be about saying thank you for everything mothers do, which includes setting an example to their daughters to grow up and take the opportunities the world offers them to be educated, independent and influential. Unfortunately it's become an opportunity to remind women that their place is in the kitchen, baking cupcakes. It should be a step forward, but it looks more like a step backwards. 

Jobs for the girls

Then this morning, another step backwards in the progress for equality between men and women. My Sunday newspaper greeted me with '1 in 7 new mothers made redundant', that many women are made redundant whilst on maternity leave.

The story, based on another of those interminable polls, also suggests that 40% of women's jobs change when they're on maternity leave, often with hours cut, demotion or simply being replaced by the person who was covering their absence. 

It's a reminder that although we have come so far, to the point where we can have good jobs, often (not always) equal pay, and maternity leave, we still have some way to go.

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