International Women's Day is a time for celebrating femininity – but it's above all a time for reflecting on how far equality has come and what we can do to take steps forward for equality.
By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist, and vegan fashion expert.
Celebrated since the early 1900s, International Women's Day began among women workers demanding better hours and more fair pay – but also, crucially, the right to vote. Through the years, IWD was cemented as the day of the campaign for votes for women, although fair and just working conditions remained a key part of the issue.
Today, gender equality has come a long way, but we are by no means where we should be when it comes to women's rights. A place where that is evident is the fashion industry. The majority – around 80% - of the world's garment workers are women, and the trade is rife with inequality: the average gender pay gap among garment workers is 18%, and with a lot of the production being outsourced to workers who make garments in their own homes, a large share of this work falls to women – who, by virtue of being home workers, have fewer rights. Studies have also shown that men in this industry tend to get promoted quicker, moving up through the ranks, and women getting left behind in lower-ranking positions.
If we step outside of the factories and move to the offices of the big names in fashion, we will find that only 12.5% of the fashion companies on the Fortune 1000 list are led by women. Compared to numbers that say that 80% of students at fashion schools are women, this is a big disparity. For an industry that markets relentlessly to women and has no issue with tasking them with garment production, fashion sure is slow to put them in the top spots.
And let's not forget that fashion's feminism issues go beyond humans – in the leather trade, cows are routinely forcefully impregnated (which is a sexual violation) and then separated from their young. If we are to be consistent in our moral stance on equality, we must include everyone. True feminism doesn't pick and choose, but stands for all females. As PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk said, “discrimination is discrimination, and it's wrong, whether you're a woman or a chicken”.
It's also worthy of note that an article in the Yale Global Health Review has cited a study that found that communities around slaughterhouses were more rife with violence – including domestic violence, often towards women. This could be linked to the fact that slaughterhouse workers face some of the highest rates of post-traumatic stress disorder out of any professional category. So choosing not to wear wool or leather could protect women in ways that we might not have considered.
These issues look even more stark against a backdrop of fashion's faux-promotions of IWD with collections of t-shirts with prints like “GIRL POWER” or “BOSS BABE” that are highly likely to have been made by underpaid women in unsafe working conditions. This International Women's Day is a great time to ask a much-needed question: what can fashion do about its inequality problems? And how can consumers be a part of the change?
Supporting women's entrepreneurship is a big part of the change. By choosing to buy from women-owned businesses, we are not only giving female entrepreneurs a chance a much-needed push, but we are also encouraging more female founders to enter the industry.
Enquiring about your favourite brand's practices, including wage policies, is another way to champion equality. As unliveable wages tend to affect women more, making sure that you buy from brands that pay a living wage (not a “fair” wage, as this term isn't legally defined and can pretty much mean anything) sets the standard for better pay in the industry.
Being vocal about change is always a good thing, and this International Women's Day, one powerful thing for consumers to do is get in touch with brands and ask what they are doing for women's equality in their supply chain. If brands are inundated with these messages, they may be compelled to take action – and at the very least be transparent about their practices.
And lastly, one simple yet powerful thing we can do to promote equality for all is to choose vegan. Today and any other day.
By Sascha Camilli
Sascha Camilli is a vegan fashion writer, speaker and activist. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, you can read our interview with her or listen to her podcast Catwalk Rebel. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
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