Paris (AFP) – Countries around the world mobilised Thursday for International Women’s Day with Spaniards on an unprecedented strike, France threatening to “name and shame” firms that pay women less and Iraqi women running a shortened ‘marathon’.
The #MeToo and #Timesup campaigns that went global with allegations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood galvanised this year’s celebrations amid surging demand from women for respect and equality.
Hundreds of trains were cancelled in Spain over the work stoppage and countless protests in defence of women’s rights.
Ten unions demanded gender equality as the strike sought to emulate Iceland’s 1975 work stoppage, when women took a day off to demonstrate their vital contribution to the economy and society.
Some 5.3 million people joined a two-hour strike, the unions said, including star television and radio presenters.
– Name and shame –
In Paris, President Emmanuel Macron pledged to “name and shame” companies that pay women less than men for the same work.
His Prime Minister Edouard Philippe had already warned Wednesday that such companies could be fined up to one percent of their wage bill.
French daily Liberation found a novel way to get a man’s attention by hiking the paper’s cost by 25 percent for all males. French women earn on average 25.7 percent less than men, according to a 2017 watchdog report.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel put out a video saying women should not rest on their laurels.
“The fight for equal rights continues,” she said. Much remained to be done “so that women have the same rights as well as the same duties as men… we will get there.”
– Iraq ‘marathon’ in Mosul –
In Iraq’s second city Mosul, 300 women ran a symbolic marathon of 900 metres down the main street.
“With this marathon we want to give women their place back after being kept at a distance for a long time,” said organiser Fatima Khalaf.
Islamic State group fighters were bombed out of the city in July after a brutal occupation.
Some of the women carried placards saying “End the marriage of minors”, “Break your silence and say ‘No’ “, and “I have the right to speak freely”.
In Cairo, the Egyptian museum put on display three artefacts to highlight the role of women in antiquity. They include a red stone head of Nefertiti, the queen who held a key political and religious role alongside her husband the Pharaoh Akhenaten 3,300 years ago.
In modern times, British women are still knocking down bastions of male privilege with the opening of their own private members’ clubs.
– Bastion of male privilege –
In the heart of London’s West End, sits The AllBright, a newly-opened private club and the latest in the capital to cater exclusively to women.
Founded by Debbie Wosskow, 43, a start-up entrepreneur, and Anna Jones, formerly of the Hearst Media Group, the club is dedicated to “working women” and already has 400 members and a long waiting list.
“It’s by women, for women, and we think that has been missing up to now,” co-founder Anna Jones told AFP.
“Everything in the building… the art on the wall, to the wine that we serve, is by women for women and showcasing female talents,” added co-founder Debbie Wosskow.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle celebrated the day by encouraging young female students to pursue careers in subjects such as science and maths.
– End to ‘manels’ –
With #internationalwomensday2018, trending worldwide, a new report called “An End to Manels”, or all-male panels, found female speakers are outnumbered by men by three to one at Europe’s top international meetings.
The survey of world leaders and businesspeople addressing top conferences over the last five years shows a “huge gender gap” with 74 percent of speakers male, the Open Society Foundations group said.
Gloomier still, the UN labour agency warned that gradual progress toward parity between the sexes in the workplace was expected to soon grind to a halt and could even reverse.
“On average around the world, women remain much less likely to participate in the labour market than men,” the International Labour Organization (ILO) said.
Today, 48.5 percent of women and girls over the age of 15 are part of the global workforce — 26.5 percentage points below the rate of male participation, the report found.
Thus, for every 10 men in a job globally, only six women are employed, it said.
– ‘Grim prognosis’ –
“The situation… is really stagnated, and it provides a grim prognosis,” said Shauna Olney, who heads ILO’s gender, equality and diversity division.
“Something needs to change, and it needs to change dramatically,” she said in Geneva.
At the Geneva Motor Show “booth babes” have almost disappeared this year in a notable change as manufacturers try to clean up their image.
The recent trend seems to have gained significant steam in a world reeling from revelations of sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination across all industries.
Meanwhile, Iran’s top legal authority reportedly wants to prosecute the organisers of a party in Tehran City Hall to mark Iranian Women’s Day on Tuesday.
Islamic law in Iran prohibits public dancing.