Marchers around the world call for equality

Fight for rights: International Women’s Day is an official holiday in at least 20 countries. © Getty

Will women ever have equal rights? “An equal world is an enabled world,” declared thousands around the globe as they took to the streets yesterday. But what do the hard statistics tell us?

Women have achieved equality, said two-thirds of men in a recent survey. Many women disagree.

Every year on 8 March, women around the world celebrate International Women’s Day. In Italy, women give and receive mimosa blossoms. In China, some men marked the occasion by climbing a mountain in dresses and high heels.

This year, the theme was “An equal world is an enabled world”. But what does the maths say about life for women in 2020?

There is plenty of bad news.

Gender bias is still rampant. A new UN report, with data from 75 countries, found that an astonishing 90% of people have some kind of bias against women. In Zimbabwe, only 0.27% of people (that includes men and women) said they had no bias against women. Sometimes, bias can be unconscious – for example, fathers rated the cries of male babies as signalling greater discomfort than female babies.

Women still do the housework. Men in the UK have five hours more free time per week than women. Why? Many women today work full-time, but studies show that they still also do most of the cooking, cleaning, and tidying. Globally, women do 75% of unpaid work.

The world is still designed by men for men. You have probably never stopped to think about it – but cities, cars, and even pianos are all designed for men’s bodies. This has enormous impacts on women’s safety – females are 50% more likely to be seriously hurt in a car crash than males.

The gender pay gap is huge. Girls in the West do better at school than boys, and are 36% more likely to apply for university. Despite this, women still earn less than men. In fact, over a lifetime, the average woman earns £260,000 less than a man.

But there is some good news too…

Women have better friends. Women are more likely than men to have a confidante – only a quarter say they do not have one. Men, on the other hand, are much lonelier: one in five say they have no close friends at all. Having close friends is vital for mental health.

Younger women are doing better. This year, Samira Ahmed won her case for unequal pay against the BBC, paving the way for other women to fight for the money to which they are entitled. And among the under-40s, the gender pay gap is now almost zero. Oh, and Ireland finally voted to legalise abortion.

So, will women ever have equal rights?

A man’s world forever?

Yes, say some. Women’s rights have come a long way since the first International Women’s Day was celebrated over 100 years ago in 1911. We may not have reached equality yet, but progress is being made all the time. Saudi Arabia, which famously restricts women’s movements, removed the ban on female drivers in 2018. Recent lawsuits, like Samira Ahmed’s, give hope to others fighting for gender equality.

No, say others. There are a multitude of factors holding women back. For example, women lose out in the workplace during maternity leave – this is unlikely to change anytime soon. Women need to be in power to make the changes that will lead to equal rights – but they make up less than 25% of politicians worldwide. It will be many years before women are finally equal to men.

You Decide

  1. Does the world value boys more than girls?
  2. Do we need a specific day every year to acknowledge women and the equality movement?


  1. Imagine you are going to an International Women’s Day march. Design a sign or banner to take with you.
  2. Research the gender pay gap in your country. Is it above or below average? In groups, discuss why you think this is.

Some People Say...

“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”

Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for female education

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most people agree that there is a lot more work to do if women are ever going to become equal to men. Unlocking women’s potential is a huge challenge for global leaders, but we know it would be worthwhile. In fact, one study found that an incredible $12 trillion (£9.2 trillion) could be added to global economic growth by 2025 just by advancing women’s equality. This would be beneficial for everyone – not just women.
What do we not know?
It is almost impossible to say if women will ever have equal rights in every country. Last year, the World Bank reported that women have equal rights to men in six countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg, and Sweden. This does not sound like much, but it is up from zero only a decade ago. However, it is very difficult to say whether the apparent successes in these six European countries can be replicated elsewhere in the world and, if so, how long this might take.

Word Watch

Mimosa blossoms
The mimosa is a small flower. The tradition is believed to have started in Rome after World War II.
A prejudice against a person or group, meaning that you act in a way that is unfair.
Piano keys are standardised to suit a handspan of nine inches or more – but the average female handspan is only seven to eight inches. Only two of all the internationally renowned female pianists have the ideal handspan for the standard piano.
A person that you trust and can share secrets or personal feelings with.
Samira Ahmed
A British TV presenter. In January, she won a court case against the BBC, after she claimed that she was not paid as much as male presenters.
The deliberate ending of a pregnancy.
A member of a government or law-making institution, or someone who is active in politics.


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