RGS Guildford courtyard with students

Reflection: International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day happens just once a year, on the eighth of March.  It is a day to recognise the cultural, economic, and political achievements of women around the world.  The day has been celebrated for over 100 years, and every year we witness the amazing breakthroughs that women accomplish.

One woman that I would like to highlight this year is Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission.  In 1989 she graduated from Hannover Medical School in Germany, specializing in women’s health.  After moving to California and back, she got involved in local politics, moving up the ranks until she reached Germany’s cabinet, where she stayed for fourteen years.  In July 2019, she was elected to become the President of the European Commission, and has since then managed the European Union policies, and by extension, led all 450 million Europeans.  She signed the 750 billion euro COVID relief bill, which saw huge amounts of funding going to countries to help repair the damage that COVID-19 caused.  More recently, she spearheaded the sanctions placed on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.  As Forbes put it, “her ruling is unique, but her commitment to a free and democratic society is not.”

While there are many successes, there continue to be huge injustices against women.  In Iran and some other countries, women are seen as subservient to men, and have very few rights. Anyone speaking out is met with violence and prosecution.  Education is limited, with some schooling being deemed only available to men. Could you imagine if you were told that you were not allowed to study your favourite subject, or even go to school at all?  This severely damages women not just in our generation, but will do so for many generations to come. Iran and similar countries have possibly the worst record of women’s rights, but this is very much a global issue.

There are many examples of institutional bias, even in democratic countries. One such is the recent ruling by the US supreme court on abortion that, in my opinion, show women’s rights may not always be at the forefront of attention. Another example is the gender pay gap, as women are paid on average 13% less than men across the EU for the same job.

The theme of International Women’s Day this year is “embrace equity”.  Women’s rights have made great progress, but there are still many challenges to be overcome; only if the whole of society does, indeed, genuinely embrace equity can real progress is to be made.

Tom Stork
Lower Sixth Form student