For more than 100 years, International Women's Day has been celebrated around the world. It started when women workers marched through the streets of New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay, voting rights and the end to child labor. As part of the International Trade Union Confederation's (ITUC) global campaign on "Decent Work, Decent Life for Women," this year's trade union theme focuses on organizing young women workers.
While the annual commemoration gives pause to celebrate improvements made for working women, it also reminds us how much more needs to be done. Today, according to the United Nations, "the majority of the world's 1.3 billion absolute poor are women. On average, women receive between 30 and 40 percent less pay than men earn for the same work. Women also continue to be victims of violence, with rape and domestic violence listed as significant causes of disability and death among women worldwide."
The number of women in the workforce and in trade unions has increased dramatically, and there have been important achievements in organizing, collective bargaining and workplace rights. Nonetheless, as highlighted in the ILO report on Global Employment Trends for Women 2009, women are "often in a disadvantaged position in comparison to men in labor markets around the world [and] in most regions, the gender impact of the economic crisis in terms of unemployment rates is expected to be more detrimental for females than for males."
In America, women now make up more than half the workforce and are approaching half of union members. However, the numbers don't reveal some of the reasons for the change. Women's sudden rise in the workforce has occurred in part because of massive job losses experienced by men in the current recession, which has also deeply affected women. And, unfortunately, women's numbers are growing in a labor movement that is losing union density in the labor force, in part because of unfair labor laws.
Just like women 100 years ago, women in America—and around the world—are fighting back. On this year's anniversary of International Women's Day, we recommit ourselves to continue to the struggle for equal rights, dignity and respect for all working women while paying close attention to women's concerns in our fight to create jobs.