I’m a passionate equalist! So on International Womens’ Day I look around at the disparity of messages around women’s rights, women’s equality and women’s opportunity and I see a world where we forget to celebrate just how far we’ve come. Only 50, 60 and 70 year olds can remember a world where the patriarchy truly reigned. So maybe it’s time to say ‘thanks’ for the fight so far and set our sights on what we want the world ahead to look like.
We really have got a lot to thank older women for!
Older women today fought what was at the time an almost everlasting losing battle for women’s rights so their daughters and granddaughters could enjoy a level of sexual equality that is unprecedented today. They started the movement that made women stronger and more able to stand up and take on opportunities and be more fairly treated. They challenged a patriarchal society, some politely and some vehemently. Either way, their efforts created the foundations of a liberated world, where women can stand beside men as equals, and a world where men want to stand beside women as equals.
And that, on this International Women’s Day is what I give thanks for. Sure, we have still got a way to go, but just stop for a minute and remember how far we’ve come in fifty or sixty years and say thanks.
I thank our older women for pushing for participation in the workplace.
Many women in their sixties and seventies today gave up work the day they were married, whether they were educated or not, so they could serve their societal role of childbearing and housekeeping. But mid-way through this journey, many asked why society worked like this, and their questions sparked enormous change. In fact, their questions sparked a movement that led to enormous opportunity for future generations of women in the workplace. Dolly Parton’s anthem ‘Working nine to five’ was much more than a hit song to women in their sixties and seventies. It was a statement of change and self-empowerment.
I thank our older women for driving for balance in careers that allow us to be respected while maintaining both careers and family life.
My mother, divorced with young children in the ‘80s had to work, juggle three young children, housework and make it look to her male boss like she had no problems in the world doing his very shitty, low-paying job, earning less than her male counterparts. Today, we actively discuss work-life balance, celebrate maternity and paternity leave, champion equal pay, and allow couples to choose how they will navigate child-rearing without assuming the woman will ‘give up work’. The older generations of women didn’t get these luxuries, but it was their stoicism that got us to this place of relative freedoms.
I thank older women for standing up for equal pay and equal opportunity even if many never got to enjoy it for themselves.
Women in their 50s, 60s and 70s remember being segregated into ‘women’s jobs’ like the typing pool and telecoms operators jobs’. And, in roles where men and women worked side-by-side in administration, management and business, many reported earning 40-50% less than their male counterparts. It’s hard to imagine a world where job segregation was so blunt and obvious or where gender pay was so hideously unequal. And there was no ‘fair work ombudsman’ or HR department to complain to. This was just how the world worked.
But not anymore. We can now expect equal pay for equal work, and fair opportunity for participation across almost all industries – something our grandmothers could never have dreamed of.
And finally, I thank older women for challenging society’s norms so we can make more progress tomorrow, for our children and grandchildren. As a woman, and a mother of girls I’m utterly thrilled to see the pace of change and the powerful equality that our daughters have been raised to expect. Sure, the western world still has some way to go in equalising business opportunities, participation and finding balance in the fight for feminism.
And so, to the women in their 50s, 60s and beyond, who fought for change but didn’t get to enjoy it, I say, ‘thank-you’. You changed the world.