Profile and Progress
Profile and Progress: Landmarks Along the Gender Journey
Each year, the months of February and March - along with the promise of Spring after long, dark winters - contain within them the anniversaries of two significant dates in the civil calendar.
Over 3 days in 1970 (Feb 27/28 and 1st March) the first UK Women's Liberation Conference raised the profile of many 'womens' issues which have long since been absorbed into the EU/UK legal fabric. March, likewise, brings International Womens Day (IWD) with themes set and celebrated by member countries, unified under a banner of female celebration and progress. Many readers may be surprised to learn that IWD has its origins in the early 1900s, not a product of the iconic feminist era of the 1960/70s.
The question posed for the 21st Century is - What were the cause-and-effect aspects of these 2 entities - pro-active pivot-points, largely responsible for the social engineering which followed - Equal Pay, Abortion, Sex Discrimination legislation, challenges to the traditional family structure (who now blinks at house-husbands)? The flip-side is that they merely reflected and reported social change events which were already in motion, accelerating them, certainly, but creating them as a new social paradigm, probably not?
The 'inevitable' theory of history is too convenient in writing off the significance of the 1970s conference and the continuing presence of IWD. It over-simplifies and reduces the merits of both organisations to little more than a marginal fringe-group meeting, and they were/are much more than that.
Networking is nothing new - its format may be in a continual process of updating, thanks to silicon valley, but before the internet, socialist working parties, workers co-operatives and pioneering womens groups, along with the growth of sector-specific organisations were plentiful. How, in an era which pre-dated communications technology, did so many individuals and groups create and inspire so many local, regional, and pan-international networks?
Finding common themes within diverse group interests is the key to challenging power-holding irrespective of the issue in question. Today's IWD provides a forensic examination of how the gender movement is progressing, not vertically within one nation, rather across the globe. Thus, in 2010, one nation can highlight female emancipation, whilst another focuses on female violence and by doing so provides the rest of the watching world with a means to measure development inter and intra-nationally, or provide support where available.
In the European, pre-internet age, travel, education and time were precious resources largely available to the aristocratic and monied classes. That being said, proto-Trade Unions and early mainstream political parties began by the effective use of the communication modes of the time - post, telephone and the spoken word.
The powerful role and importance of the two organisations is in its publicity of the fundamentals as each nation improves those issues most essential to its female citizens. Nations who, mistakenly, believe that equality is achieved by the legal implementation of, for example, equal pay, are challenged in their complacency - over 30 years on, women are still likely to be paid 20% less in the workplace. Other nations are urged to encourage girls into education as an essential element to improve their and the nations economic life-chances. Taken across the spectrum, those nations subscribing to the IWD read like a evolutionary chart, each country highlighting the stage and phase of development, each borrowing ideas and support from the other.
Spring 2011 hails the Centenary of IWD. Global themes will mirror and reflect not only 100 years of the gender journey but those yet to be challenged. As global demographics provides an ageing society, equality and quality-of-life issues turn their attention to the condition of women in middle and upper ages - the ultimate measure of how equality - economic, social and civil - has benefited the individual and groups of women, in all nations. Such issues are not issue of or for women, but of global citizenship.