For a hundred years, March has hosted International Women’s Day, an event to recognize the achievements of women – and their struggles to make those achievements into reality. It is a day to remember how far women have come, and how far there still is to go, in terms of true equality.
Yet this March also hosted something less worthy of celebration, something so vast and all-encompassing that International Women’s Day may have been subsumed by it.
While we’ve taken due note of the current pandemic elsewhere, we wanted to ensure the struggles and triumphs of women were not lost entirely because of it; hence the special focus of this issue.
This ‘Day’ is no stranger to great forces working upon the world. It was born in the crucible leading to the Russian revolution, when women not only fought for freedom from the Tsars, but also for the right to vote and have an equal say in Russian life. They won the vote although, as elsewhere, the power it should render has largely eluded them since.
American women were guaranteed the vote three years later, and the first International Women’s Day in March 1911 drew “more than 1 million people to rallies worldwide.” That was quite a feat without social media, telephones, television, or radio.
Legally guaranteed rights, however, do not guarantee equal treatment on the ground, and the playing field is still far from level.
In many parts of the world, women have not progressed much beyond their lot in the time of Abraham – and Sarah. A 2016 UNICEF report found that women and girls devoted 200 million hours per day to simply fetching and carrying water, a “colossal waste of time.”
We also know that “more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut [by some form of genital mutilation] in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.”
In Afghanistan, only one of every three girls attends school regularly.
As of 2018 there were only 20 female heads of government, in a 196-nation world – under 11%. As of October, 2019, national parliaments were just shy of 25% women.
“We have created a world where women are squeezed into just 25 per cent of the space – in parliaments and in other critical decision-making spaces,” UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said, adding, “Yet we know that more women in high-level political decision-making positions leads to policies that benefit the whole of society.” Indeed, it should be noted that her own organization, the United Nations, has yet to be led by a woman.
As paltry as the numbers above are, they still represent some measure of progress. A map of women’s role in politics shows that women are making political strides, from heads of governments to ministerial roles. (In the latter category, by the way, the United States currently ranks 107th in a field of 191, and 82nd in parliamentary posts right behind Armenia.)
Saudi women voted for the first time in 2015, a change perhaps made in an attempt to raise that nation’s rankings from “141 out of 144 countries for gender parity.”
It is not just politics, however – there is plenty of economic inequality too. At the top, in the billionaire ranks, there is a vast disparity: of the 2,095 on Forbes’ list this year, a mere 243 are women, some 11.6%.,
On the other end of the spectrum, more than 530 million women cannot read or write, north of two thirds of the global illiterates. As Wired noted in 2018, “Although the education of girls in a small number of countries is at, or approaching, parity with boys, for most of the planet, this remains distressingly elusive. Poverty, along with community traditions, tends to hold back girls as boys are prioritized.”
As we have highlighted in the past, when a family member is sick, it is generally a girl who stays home to provide care, missing school or her own work to do it.
In the West at least, as Wired points out, women have come a long way in the educational arena. In 1940, 3.8% of U.S. women graduated from college to 5.5% for men. Today, a shade more women graduate with a degree (36.6%) than men (34.6%).
After years of mismatched gender population rates “over half (11) of the Top 20 business schools in the world have now balanced their MBA student populations, and more are nearing parity. This should positively contribute to a continued knock-on effect in company leadership, salaries and pay gaps in the coming years,” according to Forbes.
Let’s be clear, there has been tremendous progress, and progress is good. Yet a hundred years after the 19th amendment was ratified, is that enough? Women are now integral parts of government, courts, armed forces, and the workforce at large, and have thoroughly proven their value in each. Yet they are still dramatically outnumbered at the tops of those institutions.
In honor of International Women’s Day 2020, we’ve devoted this issue to the distance women have come, and the challenges women face: day in and out; in the workplace and out.
 History, The Surprising History of international Women’s Day
 UNICEF, Collecting Water is Often a Colossal Waste of Time for Women and Girls, Aug 2016
 World Health Organization (WHO), Female Genital Mutilation, Feb 2020
 The Borgen Project, Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Afghanistan, July 2018
 First Ladies International, 2018 – Women and Political Leadership – Female Heads of State and Heads of Government, Feb 2018
 Archive.I.P.U., Women in National Parliaments, Oct 2019
 Inter-Parliamentary Union, In 2020, World “Cannot Afford” So Few Women in Power, 2020
 Inter-Parliamentary Union, Women in Politics: 2020
 BBC News, Saudi Arabia’s Women Vote in Election for First Time, Dec 2015
 Wikipedia, Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia
 Forbes, The World’s Real-Time Billionaires List, 202
 Wikipedia, List of Female Billionaires, 2019
 Wired, To Stop Climate Change, Educate Girls and Give Them Birth Control, Feb 2018
 U.N. Women, Facts and Figureshttps://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/commission-on-the-status-of-women-2012/facts-and-figures
 Valutus, Impacts Science Part II: Submerged Value, Nov 2018
 Statista.com, Percentage of the U.S. population who have completed four years of college or more from 1940 to 2018, by gender.Ibid
 Defined as a maximum of 60% of any gender
 Forbes, Business Schools are Balancing, At Last, March 2020