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Women Equality Day 2016

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Last month Hillary Clinton ‘put the biggest crack in that  glass ceiling yet’ and made history by becoming the first female Presidential nominee of a major party in the US.

It was a monumental moment in American history, with some commentators quick to declare that marked the near end of the long fought battle for equality between the sexes. Clinton’s nomination, coupled with the appointment of Teresa May in the UK, has been touted as proof that things for women are on the up and up, gender discrimination is over and there is no need to discuss matters of equal rights.

Last year at the sixth annual Women in the World conference Hillary Clinton said ‘There has never been a better time in history to be born female,” but is she right?

Today is Women’s Equality Day, an annual celebration in the US that commemorates the day women’s right to vote was enshrined in the US constitution. In the 96 years since, there have been big strides in the right direction, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves. There’s still a long way to go.

The US for instance is arguably the world’s most powerful country. In the 2015 edition of the annual Gender Gap report, which assesses and ranks countries based on the opportunities and rights afforded to female citizens, it  ranked number 28 out of 145 countries.

Working American women still are paid less than their male counterparts for the same work, a 2016 poll conducted by NBC revealed that 51% of women in the US have experienced gender based discrimination, women are more likely (80% more likely according to Reuters) to be poorer when they retire. A 2015 survey by Cosmopolitan magazine revealed 1 in 3 women have faced sexual harassment at work.

According to the Catalyst women hold 4.4% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. In politics, things aren’t any better. The Catalyst reports that in the House of Representatives women hold 19% of seats, in the Senate, 20%, in addition there are only six female governors in the whole of the US.

And how about Nigeria?
Well, the rejection of the ‘Gender Parity & Prohibition of Violence Against Women’ bill earlier in the year speaks volumes. The bill, which sought to give women equal rights in marriage and protect widows, was rejected on the grounds that it conflicted with traditional Nigerian values and would give women “too much freedom.”

Unsurprisingly Nigeria ranks a disappointing 125 out of 145 countries on the Gender gap report. Out of 109 senators, there are less than 10 that are female, out of 36 states not one has a female governor. Discrimination, harassment and abuse of women is rife, with the law doing little to protect women. Since Nigeria was granted Independence in 1960 there have only been 18 rape convictions, there is currently no law against sexual harassment, and despite the passing of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act domestic violence is still commonplace.

These are not just scary statistics, they represent the reality of the environment we are living in and present us with the challenge to not only pay attention but to do something about it.

In the US, Women’s Equality Day is for remembering and honouring the sacrifices women made to secure the vote but it is also a day of reflection, while it is important to acknowledge and celebrate the progress made, it is equally important to take stock of what needs to be changed and perhaps most importantly, how to go about creating that change.

If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, and there’s a good chance she will, it will be an extremely important moment in history, it will set a precedent, but it doesn’t mean equality has arrived.  Equality goes beyond a handful of women making it to the top, it is bigger than that. It is about ensuring equal access to rights and opportunities, to be free of persecution, degradation, prejudice and discrimination on account of being born female. In the words of Hillary Clinton herself, ‘human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights’ and despite the progress we aren’t there yet.


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