Blog: We’re not martyrs, we’re fighting for change

This International Women’s Day we’ll all be ‘choosing to challenge’ – just as we always do in UNISON

Think of the working-class women of Glasgow leading rent strikes in 1915. The machinists at Ford, downing tools to get what they deserved in the 1960s. And the Greenham Common peace protesters of the 1980s or the care workers taking to the streets to demand equal pay in 2018.

Every International Women’s Day, all of us – women and men together – celebrate women’s history and recognise our global struggles. And we commit to keep working together to win.

International Women’s Day this year is Monday 8 March and the theme around the world is #ChooseToChallenge, and that’s exactly what one million working women do every day through UNISON.

Together, we take our place at the table, challenge the status quo and secure change that improves all of our lives.

Right now, UNISON is fighting for a legal right to 10 days of paid carer’s leave from day one of the job, together with the right to request flexible working from day one, together with a decent system of affordable and accessible childcare that helps women stay in work.

Why? Because it’s right and necessary. And, aside from an already yawning gender pay gap and over-representation among low-paid workers, women have been paying the price of this pandemic.

Women are on the frontline keeping us safe through COVID – three quarters of our NHS is staffed by women, and we make up the overwhelming majority of care workers. Not to mention the thousands of other roles that keep our country running.

Women in all jobs have ended up juggling work and caring responsibilities, expected to do more than ever with the same number of hours in the day. And all for lower pay.

Official figures from the first lockdown show women were more likely to be furloughed, and therefore taking a 20% pay cut; more likely to take on the lion’s share of childcare and homeschooling, and less likely to spend time on paid work than men.

And of course, the pre-pandemic picture was no prettier, with inflexible work that saw women disproportionately cut their hours, take unpaid leave to cover childcare and elder care and watch their progression falter.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Stronger employment rights, greater flexibility and a decent childcare system would help us all better balance our lives, whatever the circumstances. And change is imperative if we want to kickstart our economy after this crisis.

Women have done incredible things for a really, really long time, but we’re not martyrs – we’re fighting for change.

Let’s #ChooseToChallenge the burdens that fall so excessively on working women – and all of us carry on working together in UNISON for a better system for everyone.