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27 countries celebrate International Women’s Day as a public holiday. Here's why Australia shouldn't follow suit

International Women’s Day is important. It’s a day where we celebrate all of the social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women to date, while also making note of the areas where women’s rights still lag behind.
What you may not know is that International Women’s Day is actually a public holiday in 27 countries[1], namely Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Georgia,Germany, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

So, what gives? Why do these countries get to have a day off to celebrate women’s rights, while we Aussies have to suck it up and drag ourselves to work? Should we be rallying to make this a day off, too, to show our support for women?
It’s a great idea, but before we rush in and declare solidarity with this motley crew of countries, it’s worth taking a deeper look into their track records.

As it turns out, many of these nations are the worst offenders when it comes to women’s rights.

Afghanistan has the dubious honour of being regularly shortlisted as one of the worst countries to be a woman in[2]. It has the second highest rate of sexual assault in the world[3], one of the highest incidences of domestic violence, only a third of women are literate[4], women are required to completely submit to their husband’s sexual demands and have to ask permission to leave the house[5], and a disproportionately high rate of girls are married before they’re 18.[6]

It doesn’t get much better with the other countries. Eritrea and Uganda still practice female genital mutilation[7]. 52% of women get married before the age of 18 in Burkina Faso[8]. More than half the countries have a government that’s at least 75% male[9]. Armenia and Russia have a gender pay gap of 35% and 30.6% respectively[10]. Meanwhile, countries like China, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam suffer from serious bride trafficking issues, where young girls from poor villages are being sold into sexual slavery[11].

How does Australia measure up against these indicators? Better on the whole, but there’s still room for improvement.

Shockingly, Australia has one of the worst track records for sexual violence in the world, joining countries like the United States, Botswana, Sweden and the United Kingdom[12]. One woman a week on average is being murdered by her current or former partner, one in three Australian women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15, and one in five Australian women having experienced sexual violence[13].

Our gender pay gap is currently 13.96% for full-time employees, meaning women earn on average $242.90 per week less than men[14]. This has larger ramifications than affecting a woman’s present financial situation - it also dictates her future financial independence. Our pension system revolves around workforce participation and total earnings, which is a metric that many women don’t measure up well against given the gender pay gap, disproportionate representation in lower-paying industries, and greater propensity to undertake unpaid work such as caring for children and sick/ageing relatives.

Overall, as far as the global gender gap goes, we’re currently ranked number 44 in the world (out of 155 countries), with Iceland at first place, New Zealand at number 6, and some unexpected nations ahead of ours such as Namibia, Albania and Bolivia[15].

Clearly, we still have some work to do when it comes to women’s rights, and this work won’t be accomplished by making International Women’s Day a public holiday. While we love a day off as much as the next person, we actually need to do more work on helping to drive gender equality across the various areas we’re lagging in, not putting our feet up.

In line with this year’s International Women’s Day theme of #eachforequal, we should all consider how we can help to drive the necessary changes that will enable true gender equality on an individual basis, as family units, as businesses and as government electorates. And perhaps we can lobby for that glorious day off work once we get there.

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Women%27s_Day
[2] https://time.com/5472411/afghanistan-women-justice-war/
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_in_Afghanistan
[4] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.ADT.LITR.ZS?locations=AF
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shia_Personal_Status_Law
[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_marriage_in_Afghanistan
[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_genital_mutilation
[8] https://www.amnesty.org.uk/burkina-faso-child-forced-marriage-contraception-womens-rights
[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_government
[10] https://www.businessinsider.com/these-are-the-countries-with-the-worst-gender-pay-gaps-2018-12/?r=AU&IR=T
[11] https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/11/03/bride-trafficking-china-spreads-across-asia
[12] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2016-10-20/violence-against-women-in-5-charts
[13] https://www.ourwatch.org.au/Understanding-Violence/Facts-and-figures
[14] https://www.wgea.gov.au/data/fact-sheets/australias-gender-pay-gap-statistics
[15] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf

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