On March 8th we celebrate International Women’s Day, a day to recognise the achievements of Women, advocate for women’s rights and equality. This celebration comes in the context of the current global pandemic and challenges that we all face. However, the impact of Covid-19 has not been gender neutral. UN Women, the UN organisation dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, recently highlighted the particular impact of the pandemic in increasing gender poverty-gaps between women and men. Their findings showed women were over-represented by the industries hardest hit by Covid-19 with a disproportionately high number of women losing their employment. School closures and increased caring responsibilities have impacted all; however, for women, their evidence suggests the impact has been much greater. Globally, findings suggest that 70% of health workers and first responders are also women.
The International Women’s Day theme for 2021 is #ChooseToChallenge. Education and learning is a key tool to challenge pre-conceived ideas about the place of women in society and to challenge past and existing inequalities. However, we know from empirical evidence that there are girls and women who are, or are at risk of, underachieving in education. Current estimates suggest that globally 130 million girls are out of school. Issues of gender inequality are also particularly relevant within specific ethnic and community groups and we know internationally there are cultural, religious, and traditional practices that marginalise women and place less emphasis on the importance of their education.
The importance of education for women is a moral obligation, at the heart of social justice, to provide equal opportunities to access and achieve irrespective of gender. However, we also know that education of women strengthens wider society, offering a vehicle for women to contribute to the economic success of their communities and overall public health.
Many of our learners within CLL have family commitments they balance alongside their studies. For women, Higher Education plays a particularly vital role in qualifying and developing women as leaders in society. This ensures they have the skills and knowledge to contribute to the social, economic and cultural developments in their chosen career. This in turns provides positive role models for others and raises aspirations for women and their place in society. As I look to our female students, I am excited to see them investing in their education, stepping forward as role models to others and making progress in their chosen fields.
We all have women in our immediate lives, be it within our families, friendship circles or workplaces. I would encourage everyone to look to, and beyond, these immediate connections, to women across the world, to #ChooseToChallenge individuals, policies and societal structures that inhibit or prevent gender parity. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women and enhance their future potential. As a society, globally we have many challenges ahead, by choosing to prioritise these inequalities experienced by around 50% of the world population, we have real potential to address women’s rights, equality and maximise women’s role in overcoming the challenges we all currently face.
About the blogger
Professor Ruth Hewston is Head of Department at the Centre for Lifelong Learning. Ruth’s teaching and research interests centre on inclusive education, equality and diversity, and the learning experience of non-traditional learners. She has previously published ‘Gender Diversity’ in Understanding Inclusion: Core concepts, policy and practice on the influence of gender on educational inclusion, engagement and achievement.