In the past century, women’s rights have significantly improved. Civil society and the emergence of various feminist movements – like the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 70’s –played a crucial role in reducing inequities existing between men and women. Undeniably, women today, have access to far greater employment opportunities than ever before in history. Women’s right to vote was certainly a huge step forward and the Millenium Development Goals have moved us further down the road towards equal access to education, which is very often the determinant of a life path.
While women’s conditions nowadays are certainly different – and better – from what they were a hundred years ago, there is still a lot left to do to reduce the inequalities that remain between men and women, and to bridge the gap between the various regions in the world. At a time when a great number of stereotypes still prevail, true equality is still far from being a universal reality. When it comes to the time spent on domestic work, women spend twice as much time as men. On top of that, women often carry most caring responsibilities – they are estimated to spend twice to ten times more time a day than men on care work. Globally, women are paid less than men. Figures speak for themselves: according to a 2015 study by the World Bank, women earn on average 60 to 75% of men’s wages.
Women often aspire for more for their children and themselves, and as a result, are now more likely than ever to migrate in search for better opportunities. Even then, they still are clustered into certain lines of work. Domestic work is one of the biggest employment sectors for women all over the world – ILO estimates that women represented 81% of the sector’s total workforce in 2013. Not only migration has enabled foreign domestic helpers to become economically empowered, it greatly contributed to redefining family structures, resulting in women being catapulted from homemakers into the role of breadwinner. Foreign domestic helpers who leave their countries make countless sacrifices to guarantee that their children – that they on average get to see every two years – back home enjoy a far better life. Often, torn between their desire to improve their children’s living conditions and their longing to be with them, many often do not get the opportunity to see them grow up and are forced to entrust their care to other family members.
Many times over history, women have had to prove themselves and show considerable persistence in order to acquire new rights. Beyond the crucial role foreign domestic workers play in supporting their families back home, they also play a big part in the economy of their countries – increasingly celebrated as ‘national heroes’ – thanks to the billions in remittances that they send every year. Better economic prospects do not, however, always translate into equality and increased freedom. Foreign domestic workers who migrate to countries like Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East often work very long hours. The live-in rule that makes it compulsory for them to stay with their employers definitely contributes to blurring the lines by encouraging extra (non-paid) work, making it harder for them to strike a balance between their personal and professional lives, but also makes them more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Women’s rights have undeniably progressed – quite unevenly across regions. To this day, however, in still too many regions in the world gender conditions countless aspects of a woman’s life. Freedom of choice is too often a simple illusion as many women have no say on various matters that directly affect them. It will surely take many more decades of advocacy to achieve true equality in every part of the world.