Officially observed by the United Nations, International Women’s Day has its origins in the early twentieth century and the organised labour movements of Europe and North America. At the time, women in most countries couldn’t vote or stand for office, and lacked many of the legal rights we now take for granted (married women, for example, often needed their husband’s legal consent to own property, open bank accounts, or to find employment).
But who really cares? We’re living in 2016. Women have equality in Europe, right? The EU certainly prides itself on having equal rights for men and women as one of it founding values (though its inclusion in the 1957 Treaty of Rome was probably initially more about economic necessity than idealism). But how much do the EU’s values match up with the reality?
In 2003, the European Commission started keeping a database to monitor the numbers of men and women in key decision-making positions in Europe. The statistics show that only 4% of executive-level positions in the largest publicly-listed companies in the EU are held by women.
Things aren’t much better in politics, where only 22.6% of sitting parliamentarians in Europe are female. Not to mention the fact that, on average, men are paid 16% more than women for doing exactly the same job.
Some women are uncomfortable with the label ‘feminism’. They prefer terms such as ‘humanist’, ‘egalitarian’, or (*shudder*) ‘equalist’. For their part, feminists point out that they share the exact same goal of equality; feminists are not somehow trying to get all women into a position of dominance over all men, but rather to address inequality by empowering women.
Is there just too much baggage attached to the label ‘feminism’? Does it need a re-branding exercise? Or are Europeans taking for granted the hard-won rights that now exist for women, and ignoring the inequality that still persists?
Is feminism still relevant in Europe today? Are young Europeans uncomfortable calling themselves ‘feminists’? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!