International Women’s Day (IWD) is an annual celebration of the economic, social, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. It also highlights important issues such as gender equality and the gender pay gap.
IWD is held annually on 8th March and each year follows a different theme. This year it’s #EachforEqual with an emphasis on challenging stereotypes and improving women’s situations.
We find out how IWD is celebrated around the world and what we can do to support it. We also explore the gender pay gap to see how much progress has been made and what else can be done in the UK.
How do we celebrate International Women’s Day around the world?
As the name suggests, International Women’s Day is celebrated all over the world. Since 2019, it has been recognised as a public holiday in Berlin, the capital of Germany.
In China, the concept has been commercialised, and many companies let women have half a day off work. Whilst in the US, a host of events are put on throughout the whole of March to promote female empowerment - not just on 8th March.
In other countries like Italy, it’s treated a bit like Mother’s Day. Italians give yellow Mimosa blossom flowers to the women in their life. Or people make citrus cakes decorated to look like the Mimosa flower.
5 ways to celebrate International Women’s Day
If you’re wondering how to get involved this year, there are several things you can do, like:
Strike the #EachforEqual pose and share messages on social media using the official hashtags #IWD2020 and #EachforEqual to raise awareness.
Attend anIWD event near you. There’s a range of events taking place including concerts, festivals, walks, talks and arts events.
Wear the colour purple - the official colour of IWD.
Support women’s charities. Victoria Beckham has teamed up with Net-a-Porter’s designers to create an IWD t-shirt. Money goes towards the charity Women for Women International (UK). You can buy one to show your support here.
Why is International Women’s Day important?
IWD highlights important issues such as women’s rights and gender equality. Everyone can get involved, it’s not limited to a certain gender, country or group. The organisers of International Women’s Day sum up the meaning behind it:
“The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women's education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.
However, great improvements have been made. We do have female astronauts and prime ministers, school girls are welcomed into university, women can work and have a family, women have real choices. And so each year the world inspires women and celebrates their achievements.”
What is the gender pay gap in the UK?
As mentioned above, some progress has been made. For example, The Equal Pay Act of 1970 was introduced in the UK to try and reduce discrimination in the workplace. Then a change in the law was passed on 6th April 2017 to try and close the gap further by encouraging transparency in the workplace. It ruled that large employers must publish statistics on their gender pay gap.
Things are moving in the right direction but there’s still more work to do. The latest stats gathered by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the gender pay gap among all employees fell from 17.8% in 2018 to 17.3% in 2019.
But some argue that the gap is still the equivalent of women not getting paid for the first two months of the year. This has led to 6th March being dubbed as ‘Women’s payday’.
In terms of age groups, the worst affected by the gender pay gap are older people, particularly for those aged 50-59 and over 60 years old. The ONS puts this down to the fact that older women are usually in lower-paid jobs than younger women, and are less likely to have senior positions.
Amongst full-time employees, the gap has fallen to almost zero. But bear in mind that women fill more part-time occupations than men, which are likely to be lower-paid than full-time workers.
Can the gender pay gap be fixed?
Things are moving in the right direction but more work is needed to fix the gender pay gap. A Government Equalities Office spokesperson said:
"We need a much wider cultural change to close [the gap] completely and are working with employers to achieve this… We have already introduced measures like shared parental leave and are developing a fresh strategy setting out how we plan to bring economic empowerment to all women throughout the UK."
Frances O'Grady, the general secretary of the TUC federation of trade unions, says the problem can be fixed over the long-term:
"Employers must be legally required to publish an action plan to say how they'll tackle pay inequality at their workplaces and advertise jobs on a more flexible basis...Better pay for part-time work and care jobs are needed, as well as more flexible jobs.”
She also advocates more childcare plus care for the elderly, as well as improved careers advice and more flexible working to help women in the workplace.