8 Mar 2009

International Women's Day and the Million Women Rise march

Yesterday I was in London and Regent's Street suddenly went quiet - wonderful - no cars and quiet - folk started walking down the middle of the road - people seemed to visibly relax and smile more or was that just me? Then came the chanting, whistles, music and shouts from thousands of women - the Million Women Rise march....

Video and photos: I took at the march yesterday but unfortunately there was a fault with the camera so didn't get all the ones I was hoping for!

It was an impressive and wonderful sight that gave a real hope for change - the Million Women Rise is a coalition of individual women and representatives from the Women’s Voluntary and Community Sector who came together last year for the first time to organise a national demonstration against male violence. Some 5000 marched then to celebrate International Women’s Day and to show united rage and opposition to male violence. It was the largest demonstration of women in UK history and the most diverse demonstration many had ever attended. Yesterday there seemed many more than 5000. It was a very moving sight.

As I have highlighted before we do not take these issues seriously enough - see here for example issues in 2006 re juries who blame women for 'drunk rape' - change is all too slow - I just read a report I think by the Campaign to End Rape saying that little has changed and have called for an inquiry into "old and silly prejudices" after it emerged that some women had compensation cut because they had been drinking.

The facts quoted on leaflets at the march reveal that violence forms part of the every day lives of too many women. In the UK:
  • One woman in four will experience domestic violence at some point in her life
  • Two women are murdered every week by their partner or ex partner
  • One incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute
  • Only 5% of rapes reported to the police result in the perpetrator being convicted in court
  • Up to 1,420 women per year are trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation
  • One woman a month is murdered in the name of ‘so called’ honour
International Women's Day is today this year and is celebrated in many countries around the world and in different ways. It dates back to 1909 with the first National Woman's Day being observed in the United States on 28 February. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honour of the 1908 garment workers' strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions. See more background to the International Women's Day here and some disturbing and fascinating facts re women here.

Women at greater risk of redundancy

Violence towards women that the march was highlighting is just one of many issues being raised in connection to this International Day. Jean Lambert, London's Green Party MEP, has issued a call for true equality in the workplace. As many will know she is a longstanding campaigner for employment rights and equality - she is speaking over this weekend at several places calling for greater recognition of the difficulties which women in particular are facing during the recession.

It is clear that for women at work, the recession is already making a bad situation worse. As recent TUC figures have shown, women are disproportionately vulnerable to unemployment: the redundancy rate among women is rising twice as fast as it is among men. They are far more likely to be in the sorts of low-paid, part-time or temporary positions which are the first to go when employers need to make cuts. There is still a shocking gender pay gap in Britain, as wide as 36.6 per cent for part-time employment. Women often face difficulty in accessing Jobseeker's Allowance, and the greater need for fewer jobs is making it even harder for women returning to work after maternity leave.

Let us hope that this International Women's Day, when the recession is on everybody's mind, it is an opportunity to consider where we've been getting things wrong, and to pledge to put things right to create fairer workplaces for us all.

Jean Lambert has an excellent piece in the New Statesman. Be inspired! Here is the link but I also a copy below which I hope the New Statesman wont mind - they also have links to other International Women's Day articles:

Women and the recession

Marking International Women's Day 2009, Jean Lambert MEP assesses the impact of the economic downturn on women

This Sunday is International Women’s Day and as we enter headlong into recession we need to understand and act on the far-reaching impacts of the economic downturn on women.

The impulse to dedicate a day in the spring to campaigning, celebration and reflection for women can be traced back to March 8, 1857, which is thought to have been a day of protest by female textile workers in New York against poor working conditions and meagre wages.

This year marks the centenary of the first National Women’s Day, celebrated in the United States on February 28, 1909. International Women’s Day was first observed in 1911 and it quickly assumed a tone of commemoration as well as celebration, following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in March of that year.

This disaster, at a New York factory producing garments for the emergent female consumer class, claimed the lives of 146 of its predominantly female, immigrant workforce. Poor safety provision and overcrowding at the factory premises undoubtedly increased the death toll. In subsequent decades the IWD tradition waned, but it re-emerged with feminism in the late Sixties. In 1975, designated International Women’s Year, it received the official sanction of the UN.

While it understandably became a point of focus for feminists, it was, from the outset, intended to raise awareness of inequities that affected not just women, but all who were poorly paid, poorly treated and otherwise marginalised. The call of those early organisers of IWD was essentially for fairness.

We know that women are facing a disproportionately high risk of unemployment during this recession. They enter it from a position of relative economic disadvantage: women are more likely to be in part-time, lower-paid or temporary employment, filling the roles that are often the first to go when employers are forced to make cuts. Those returning to work after maternity leave will find familiar difficulties compounded as they compete for the opportunities that do exist.

And attitudes towards women on maternity leave don’t help either. This week, a Government survey revealed that a quarter of men and a fifth of women feel that people on maternity leave should be first in line for redundancy. Yet a quarter of all households are now headed by lone parents, 90 per cent of whom are women. It’s also been found that added barriers exist for women who seek to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance.

The TUC has recently made clear the worrying reality of this recession for women. Parity in the British workplace has yet to be achieved, with the gender pay gap still as wide as 36 per cent in part-time employment. But new equality legislation, which includes measures to address inequality, is reportedly at risk of being scrapped to avoid further strain on business at this time.

There are wider problems for women too. Last month Superintendent David Hartshorn, a senior Metropolitan Police officer chief, told The Guardian that the police are expecting a “summer of rage” on the streets as a result of the downturn. However, we must also be alert to the rage and violence being played out behind closed doors, as financial strain on families and relationships mounts.

The Fawcett Society has reported an increase in the number of domestic violence referrals and Baroness Scotland, the Attorney General, has also warned that the wider economic climate is likely to create added pressures on women who already feel unable to leave abusive relationships because of limited access to finance or support.

This week, the Government has gone some way to acknowledging the risk of a rise both in employment discrimination, and in violence against women, with the publication of an advice booklet, Real Help Now for Women.

But for women who do find themselves in such a position, the system is often woefully ill-equipped to support them. The second Map of Gaps report, which was published last month, has highlighted the appalling inadequacies in service provision for women who have suffered domestic or sexual abuse.

The London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has already back-tracked on his promise to provide funding for Rape Crisis Centres. In his manifesto, he pledged to provide the £744,000 a year to fund the one existing centre in London plus three new centres. But when questioned by Green Party London Assembly Member, Jenny Jones, he stated that he wouldn’t improve on the original £233,000 a year budget. That amounts to providing less than a third of what was originally promised.

Specific service provision for women from black or minority ethnic backgrounds is particularly poor. Refugee or immigrant women are especially vulnerable, as they are more likely to be financially insecure and thus are at greater risk of coercion into personally dangerous or criminal behaviour. As the Government looks to make savings, the prospect of funds being diverted to these areas at this time looks increasingly remote.

In addition, we are not doing enough to recognise economic abuse. Refuge has produced important research on this manifestation of domestic abuse, whereby a partner exercises power through undermining a woman’s financial independence, perhaps controlling or claiming wages or benefits, withholding money allocated for family or household needs, or manipulating her into feeling cheap and worthless. It is reasonable to conclude that more difficult economic circumstances will exacerbate this too.

These problems, of course, are not new, and the downturn did not cause them. But it could make them worse. We need to increase support now to organisations working with families and those suffering or at risk of abuse. This would be money well spent.

Our response to this recession is going to shape life in Britain for decades to come and we must ensure that any response adequately provides for those who may be disproportionately affected in ways that are perhaps not immediately obvious.

Jean Lambert is a Green Party Member of the European Parliament. She is one of nine MEPs representing London and one of two UK Green representatives in the European Parliament. www.jeanlambertmep.org.uk

Other Greens have also been speaking out.

I can't cover all their quotes of course but here are a couple sent through this morning. European Green Party Co-Spokesperson Ulrike Lunacek, who is also an Austrian MP and is the Austrian Greens' lead candidate in the upcoming elections to the European Parliament, said: “The latest statistics released by the Commission show that on average, women in the EU earn 17.4 less than their male counterparts. This is a disgrace and concrete measures need to be taken as a matter of urgency in order to close this gap. Among the steps which should be taken, we Greens propose that the EU should not just criticise the pay gender gap but also give member states specific measures to take and , if necessary, sanctions if those measures are not implemented. Since one of the reasons for the pay gap is the fact that women still do most of the household and childcare work, the EU should also make it obligatory for member states to provide childcare places for at least 90% of children aged between 3 and 6 (as demanded as part of the Lisbon Strategy) and that sanctions are taken against those countries that do not provide these childcare places. It is also vital that companies do much more to give their female employees opportunities for promotion, including specific training programmes. The effectiveness of these programmes should be thoroughly evaluated and governments should provide subsidies and grants only to companies who have these training schemes."

EGP Co-Spokesperson, Philippe Lamberts, who is number two on the list for the European Elections for the French-speaking Belgian Green Party, Ecolo,said : “International Women’s Day should also be seen as a call of action against domestic violence and other forms of violence against women. It is estimated that one in four women in Europe has been a victim of male violence and we Greens strongly support the call from Women’s groups for a strong EU-wide policy on violence against women to ensure that member states do more to protect women and to prevent and counter violence against women. The other area where action must be taken urgently is politics. In national parliaments across the EU, women make up just 24% of parliamentarians, while women make up just 31 % of Members of the European Parliament. Green Parties have a good record in this respect both at national and European level but all parties must do more to ensure that women, who make up 50% of the population, are properly represented in public life, including European institutions and the European Parliament.”

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