March 8th, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day; an event that honors women and their struggle for equal rights.
The idea grew out of the women’s labor movement in the U.S. In March of 1908, to protest low pay and deplorable working conditions in factories, members of the International Garment Worker’s Union marched in the streets of New York City. A year later, National Woman’s Day was celebrated in the U.S. That prompted the first observance of International Women’s Day in March of 1911, with rallies demanding an end to discrimination, and that women be given the right to work, to vote and to hold public office.
Later, that same month, on March 25th of 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire cut short the lives of more than 140 immigrant working girls in New York. Because that tragedy helped galvanize the labor movement’s fight improve working conditions, it is still remembered on International Women’s Day.
We commemorate the struggle and sacrifice of these women as we mark this 100th International Women’s Day and draw attention to the progress we have made and the work that lies ahead.
Today, young women have more opportunities, access, and equality than ever before. In the United States, young women are now more likely than men to complete college and graduate school than men. But working women still earn less money and have a harder time supporting their families. Women are clustered in lower paying professions and are more likely to work part time, without health insurance or unemployment insurance.
The DOL reports that women working full-time in the United States still make only about 78 cents on the dollar when compared to their male counterparts. For women of color, the wage gap is even greater – African American women earn just 71 cents, and Latinas 62 cents, for each man’s dollar. The glass ceiling has been cracked but it is not broken.
Globally, according to some estimates, women do two thirds of the work, but earn just one third of the income of men. Women are more likely than men to participate in precarious informal work with low pay, poor working conditions, and no protection under labor laws.
We must achieve gender equality in the world of work so women have access to the same jobs, the same protections and same pay scales as their male counterparts. One solution is to prepare more women for careers in better paid professions, like science and technology. Women are underrepresented in these fields. That is one reason the United Nations theme for Women’s Day 2011 is “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.”
Let us work together to recognize the inequities that exist and bridge the gap in equal pay for equal work across the globe!
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) will continue to promote gender equality through an array of global partnerships. We will work toward ratification of the International Labor Organization Convention 111 on non-discrimination in employment. In the upcoming Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labor, (IACML) we and other governments will discuss ways to narrow the gender gap and integrate gender perspectives into employment policies throughout the Americas. We are making similar efforts in the G20, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the OECD.
In 1920, just two months before women achieved the right to vote, Congress created the DOL Women’s Bureau. It is the only Federal agency specifically mandated to improve the lives of working women. The Women’s Bureau continues to work towards Secretary Solis’ goals including fair compensation for women and high quality work-life environments. The Women’s Bureau reaffirms its commitment to move women towards higher paying jobs in the Non traditional employment sectors such as Green, and Science Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). It is also committed to assisting women veterans who are experiencing homelessness reintegrate into the labor force.
Through our continued resolve and collaborative efforts, we will improve the lives of women and their families and strengthen the future economic health of global communities. On this 100th International Women’s Day, as women and as workers, we give our thanks to those who came before us, and look forward to the next 100 years of progress toward gender equality in the world of work.
Editor’s Note: This post is co-authored by Sandra Polaski and Sara Manzano-Diaz. Sandra Polaski is Deputy Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs.
Sara Monzano-Diaz is Director of the U. S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.