International Women’s Day and some reflections on where we’re at

I’ve had my concerns lately, but still I wasn’t prepared for quite such a dire warning from the UN, as reported in The Guardian on March 6.

Global progress on women’s rights is “vanishing before our eyes”, the secretary general of the UN, António Guterres, has warned, saying the increasingly distant goal of gender equality will take another three centuries to achieve.

“Gender equality is growing more distant. On the current track, UN Women puts it 300 years away,” Guterres said in a general assembly speech ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, as he launched two weeks of discussions led by the Commission on the Status of Women.

“Women’s rights are being abused, threatened and violated around the world,” he added, as he ticked off a litany of crises: maternal mortality, girls ousted from school, caregivers denied work and children forced into early marriage.

“Progress won over decades is vanishing before our eyes,” Guterres said.

He highlighted the particularly dire conditions in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, where “women and girls have been erased from public life”.

300 years??!!! I hope he’s using hyperbole to some extent, but this is a very ominous warning. Right up there with the loss of our planet as we know it within this century, and we can see how seriously we’re taking that threat. The silence of sufficiently meaningful action is deafening.

Image source: Olle Johansson, Sweden,
Earlier this week there was another sobering opinion piece in Toronto’s Globe and Mail that made me sit up and take notice. “Population decrease is irreversible. How will we manage the decline of humanity?”, by John Ibbitson and Darryl Bricker, describes the dramatic impending decrease in population in most countries around the world, with overall world population decrease projected to start mid-century. For countries that have already reached this point (Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia, to name a few), the concern starts to become: how do we continue to function as a society? How do the few young people support the many old people? How can we possibly imagine our societies as working differently than they do now? And what is the message for women and women’s role in this new world?

The irony is multifold. First of all, this world as we know it (those of us lucky enough to live in safe places) has only existed in its current form for the past 75 years or so. The basic model has been to embrace new technology – not a bad thing at all until we learn about what we’re doing to our planet – and base everything on “growth”. That’s growth of the economy and growth of profits for those who “have”. Sorry, folks, but we can’t continue to run our economies on the current model of encouraging people to buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have. We need to find a new model.

Secondly, until recently, the big issue – other than climate change – has been that there are too many people in the world. What were we going to do about that?! Well, it seems that we are taking care of that on our own, especially women, by having far fewer children (and having those fewer children far later in life). So now that the too-many-people issue may be about to resolve itself, the big concern is not having enough people. Of course, the only real issue with “down-sizing” is that until the bubble of old people die off (and, don’t worry, we will), there will be a challenge in staffing jobs and funding the social net for the old people. But this is a short-term issue, maybe 20 years or so, and then the population demographics should be back in balance. Figure it out, policy wonks.

And, thirdly, one of the solutions proposed to counter a decline in population, which speaks to the power of women, is to encourage women to have more children by paying them a monthly or annual stipend for additional children! Hungary’s proactive approach in this regard is featured in this article, but Quebec has tried something similar in the past, and most women readers will not be surprised to hear that these programs are not successful. All the governments are doing are paying families that already want to have more children. Sorry, male policy makers, but money is not an incentive to have more children. Few women are saying, “Gee, I’d love to have two or three more children if only I got another $800/month per kid.” From the Ibbitson/Bricker article:

To reverse four decades of population decline brought on by low fertility, outmigration and anti-immigrant policies, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has greatly expanded financial supports for large families.

A woman with four children pays no income tax for life. There are also housing supports, child-care supports, SUV subsidies and other incentives. In January, the government unveiled a new program that would offer a lifetime income tax exemption for any woman who has a child in her 20s.

The program is hugely expensive: Five per cent of Hungary’s GDP goes to supporting families with children. And although the fertility rate ticked up in the past decade as the measures were introduced, last year it fell back from 1.6 to 1.5.

The most important reason, by far, not to emulate Hungary’s example is that it seeks to reverse decades of effort by women to achieve greater equality.

And this topic of having children brings me to the strong link with women’s rights and how they have improved for many of us, especially in the “western” world. I’m 77 years old. When I was a kid, the birth control pill had not yet been invented. Condoms were illegal; contraception was considered sinful for everyone by lawmakers. So having women die in childbirth after having 8 unplanned kids was considered not sinful, but being free to choose when and how many children to have so you could take proper care of them and yourself was. Blessedly, the birth control pill was successfully tested and approved in 1960 and by the mid-60s they were available to most women in most jurisdictions.

When I was a teenager, just before the availability of the pill, it was considered a nearly unrecoverable sin to have become pregnant “out of wedlock”. Parents in my neighbourhood whose kid “got in trouble” or who “got some girl in trouble” had to go completely silent about an occasion they usually had every right to rejoice in, the arrival of a grandchild. Instead, their kids disappeared and nobody ever spoke about where they were or whether they had a little boy or little girl. Certainly that has changed hugely for the better.

It is widely accepted now for women to have their own work lives and their own income. This makes them full partners in their relationships, which brings not only a level of independence but also an improved sense of self-worth. That’s got to be an improvement. And do you know what I believe really helped get women out of the home … the invention of permapress clothing! Anyone else my age will remember how much ironing our mothers had to do. It seemed like it never ended. Sheets needed to be ironed, all shirts, all pants, all nearly everything. The laundry came out of the wash wrinkled beyond belief. Every fridge had a green bottle in it that had water for sprinkling on the sheets and clothes before ironing to help get the wrinkles out; that, of course, was before some brilliant soul thought of having a steam function in irons. It’s kind of like ironing was the last of the household drudgery that had no end. Automatic washing machines arrived, and even dishwashers came in, along with vacuum cleaners (remember carpet sweepers, brooms, and dustpans?!), etc. But the ironing was never-ending until the advent of permapress cloth. Now we don’t even think about it. We’ve come a long way from when my mother-in-law had to drag a full tub of water across the floor and hoist it up on a wood stove to boil the water for her first child’s diapers!

Image source: Pinterest

On International Women’s Day we should applaud the positive changes, but we must also heed the warnings of António Guterres and continue to rail against the travesties being forced on women in countries such as Afghanistan and Iran. We should also rail against the continuing discrepancies in pay and opportunities between men and women in many occupations.

Folks, if you want your children to be taught by good, well-trained teachers, then you need to pay them.  If you want your parents – or you – to be taken care of by nurses and other caregivers in hospitals and long care homes, the majority of whom are women, then you need to pay them. You get what you pay for. Treat your staff well or you might end up getting nobody at all! Do we really believe that the people who handle our “wealth management” affairs are worth far more than the people who care for us physically and emotionally in our greatest hours of need? Do we really believe that the CEO of major corporations need to be making as much in the first morning of the New Year as the majority of his (it’s virtually always a man) employees make in an entire year?

On International Women’s Day, let’s all think about how we can continue to bring more equality into our societies. Women lift up the world.

Image source: Liza Donnelly, The New Yorker

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22 Responses to International Women’s Day and some reflections on where we’re at

  1. Oh Jane, this is such a sad tale… We and our middle class peers live in a bubble here in the west and often forget that what we have most of the world does not. As we are both in our 70’s our experiences have been very similar; ‘we’ have made so much progress and yet, countries like Afghanistan are stuck in the Middle Ages. Thank you for reminding us of this and the many other ominous trends world-wide. We ignore them at our peril.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. To borrow from the many podcasts I listen to, there’s quite a lot to unpack here. Can’t argue with anything that you wrote. My only comment is to agree that the decline in population is a very short-term problem that can be dealt with. But there are too darn many of us. A Facebook friend recently posted a graphic with facts from 100 years ago. Among other things, the world’s population was 1.914 billion. Now it is nearly 9 billion. Our numbers are pushing species to extinction, taking over land, using up resources, and causing incredible pollution. I know I am preaching to the choir, but I am always flabbergasted when governments think it is a good idea to pay women to have babies. (Supporting families is another matter.) Finally, to think of all that ironing. Phew! I haven’t touched an iron in years and don’t plan to.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Linda Sprague says:

    Lots to digest here Jane! And I’m proud to say I iron maybe twice a year. My 7 year old grandson once saw my ironing board up and asked what it was, “An operation table?”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Linda, your grandson’s question is too funny! We’ve at least come a long, long way in freedom from ironing. I’ve often said that whoever invented permapress cloth should have been awarded a Nobel Prize, maybe for peace!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The 300 years shocked me yesterday as well. I am glad you wrote about it too.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. focussolar says:

    Hi Jane,

    I enjoy reading every blog. One topic I have not see you address is distribution of mammals on our earth. One introduction to this topic: Regenesis by George Monbiot (Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet). Did you know that there are only six pounds of wild animals per person on earth?

    A breakdown: from The Weight Of Responsibility:
    Biomass Of Livestock Dwarfs That Of Wild Mammals
    March 6, 2023 Weizmann Institute of Science

    The combined weight (biomass) of humans is 390 million tonnes.
    The livestock biomass is 630 million tonnes, dominated by cattle, at 420 million tonnes.
    The biomass of wild land mammals is 20 million tonnes.
    Ten species account for about 40 percent of the biomass of all wild land mammals.
    White-tailed deer, known to many from the animated Disney movie Bambi, have the largest biomass of all wild land mammals, followed by wild boar and elephants.
    The biomass of pigs alone is nearly double that of all wild land mammals.
    Domestic dogs’ biomass equals that of all wild land mammals combined.
    The biomass of marine mammals is 40 million tonnes.
    Fin whales have the largest biomass of all marine mammals. Sperm whales and humpbacks hold the second and third slots, respectively.
    Biomass studies offer a different perspective on the animal world compared to other metrics. For instance, the 1,200 species of bats account for a fifth of all land mammal species and two-thirds of all wild mammals by head count (total number of individuals). However, they make up only 10 percent of the biomass of wild land mammals.

    One little irritation: transition from your email intro to the blog can pick up where the short email note leaves off, not your heading, requiring readers to scroll below an find where you left off! Other bloggers do this so I’m sure you can figure out how to implement this!

    I’m 77 this year! My blog:


    Bill Rogers

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks so very much for this significant comment, Bill. And for your blog link. I’ve noticed your Likes from time to time but of course WordPress doesn’t “share” your blogspot posts. I wish I’d known sooner. Your observations about wildlife and all we can learn about them is much appreciated. I’ve covered a bit of that topic in a few Map Monday posts and a few posts back when I did Wildlife Wednesdays, but it’s time for a renewed look at the marvels of the world’s wildlife from a variety of perspectives. Thanks for that push.

      As for the email format, I never thought about it. It looks like there’s an email plugin. I’ll take a look. Thx.


  6. Margaret says:

    Jane, you cover this sad story so well. I’m only 3 years younger than you and remember well the advances for women you describe. I remember vividly the fight for them as well.
    Alas, this morning I read a tweet from Mumsnet founder @Justine_Roberts writing about how the conversations she sees on #Mumsnet betray a lack of progress for women – and why we need politicians and policymakers to acknowledge it, and get angry about it. (Yes, anger does have its uses when mobilised in the right way).
    In the 23 years since she founded Mumsnet not so much has improved for women in that time, Justine says. “We need to face up to that and demand our political representatives do better”
    Hear! Hear!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Oh no, Margaret, I’ll have to look into this. So much unsettling news. We just all assumed things would keep improving, for freedom and democracy, for human rights of every stripe, and for less inequality. How wrong we were. 😢


  7. Well said, Jane. We’ve come a long way in the Western World, but have a ways to go yet, and it’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening on other parts of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      We agree, Debra. Where we’ve made great progress, we’ve now learned that equality and respect must never be taken for granted. Look what’s happening in the U.S. with their cruel, repressive abortion restrictions in many states. And what’s happening in so other parts of the world where religious (aka misogynistic) extremism has taken control is beyond belief. Heartbreaking.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Rose says:

    Happy International Women’s Day!! Another well-written, reflective post Jane! You lay out some great examples of how Women’s lives have changed, and then regressed. With the first recorded celebration in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland when over a million people rallied to support women’s rights, it seems like we should be much farther along in our quest for equity. Not 300 years behind! It will sound simplistic of me to say, but I’d like to think that if we all treated each as equal teammates and took care of our planet as we should, we’d end 99% of our problems.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      What you’d like to think (and what I naively thought we were headed towards until about 2016) is surely exactly correct, it’s just that too few people with power have any interest in making that happen. 😥

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m the same age as you Jane, and well remember the advent of the pill & the shame of “getting into trouble” (not personally) before the pill became available. Also the way my mum was denied a hire purchase agreement in a shop unless my dad was there to sign it. This was in the late 1960s and I was appalled then. I’m appalled now by how little has really changed in basic attitudes towards women; many men do not actually like women as people. Thanks to those who do, and show respect…but few will be found, I gather, in the UK’s Mother of Parliaments. Ironing? I’m waiting for an ironing bot to be invented, and in the meantime I do very little and treat it as a meditative experience, smoothing out some of the cares of the world as I wield the weapon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for these observations, Joyce. Your comment about your mother and not being able to sign an agreement in her own name reminded me of when we bought our first home (our farm) here in 1970 and it could not be in my name, just in my husband’s. There have been positive changes for sure in our bubbles, but I fear you are correct that many men really just don’t like women as people. I’m blessed not to know them personally; they sure wouldn’t like ME!! 😏

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for an enlightening, depressing and hopeful blog. The bad news is that our world problems are so profound and all-encompassing that we are beginning to realize that the human mind is incapable of solving the mess we have created. Apparently we must be brought to our knees before we wake up and surrender to the greater loving forces that are in charge. The good news is that the more devastating our problems become, the closer we are to the shift in consciousness that will help us get up off our knees and start to dig ourselves out of the pits of despair. It’s up to us, one mind at a time. The unseen blessing is that we have unseen help ever on our side, ever cheering us on. May we all keep the faith!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for your comments, Julia. I’m not so sure that the human mind is incapable of acting in more than just short-term self-interest, but we’re in desperate need of leadership that has the courage to act in everyone’s interest, not just for his/her Party’s base and corporate interests.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Roy McCarthy says:

    Brilliant essay Jane. I really wish you were a policy advisor. And indeed, I own an iron but can’t remember when I last used it.
    I read a piece about elite women in sport recently, that is mainline sports such as soccer in the leading countries. Having achieved something approaching equality it is being debated that things ought to go further so that women aren’t just regarded as ‘different men’ and that differences in physiology involving training, footwear and parenthood etc. be recognised. Cold comfort for those poor souls in Afghanistan, Iran and many African nations who would welcome the most basic of human rights.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Roy. In Canada, the women’s national soccer team just went on strike because they haven’t achieved anything approaching equality – in pay, training requirements, etc. – despite bringing better results than the men. (They’ve been beating the U.S. regularly the past few years.) And I noticed that the body that oversees Wimbledon has just this year acquiesced to allow female tennis players to wear non-white undergarments when playing at what’s already a tough time of month. Having refused that exemption for decades is jaw-dropping to me. But you’re dead right, these challenges fade in comparison to the desperate need for rights and respect of so many women around the world.

      Liked by 1 person

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