What does it cost to be a woman, financially and emotionally? Really, think about it. This is something I’ve been reflecting on in the run up to International Women’s Day and I want each and every one of you to do the same. It’s so easy to normalize gender inequality, and see it as part and parcel of everyday life. But shouldn’t we use this time to zoom out and assess how every woman experiences inequality day in and day out? Because from having a period, to raising children, it costs a lot – a lot to be a woman in 2023.
It costs a lot to have your period.
What does it cost for our self-perception as women that our periods, this beautiful thing that is symptomatic of being able to give life, are considered dirty and should be neither talked about nor seen? What does it cost for our wallets to buy feminine products every month? Or let’s just call it what it is: Tampons, pads, liners, and cups. What does it cost for our performance at work when we menstruate? I know, I’ve had to present to an entire organization while bleeding profusely and with menstrual cramps so bad, I could barely stand up straight. But society has taught me that it should be kept hidden, so with a sweaty upper lip from the pain, I did what every woman would have done: I aced my presentation, took the applause, went to the bathroom, and wept (silently) to release the pain.
But what does that cost for me that something so deeply connected to my identity as a woman cannot be accepted as the natural, inconvenient, and normal thing it is? Think about it.
It costs a lot to fear walking home alone.
Every woman I know fears walking home alone. Me included. I always text my friends when I get home, and because the door to our building is automatic, I wait for it to close shut before walking upstairs to my apartment door. But this fear is not limited to me and my group of friends. In fact, a new study by YouGov shows that 66% of British women say they feel unsafe walking home at night at least “sometimes”, and another 20% never do so in the first place for safety reasons. And this fear is warranted. Though the majority of femicides are still at the hands of a partner or family member – more than half (56%) of the 81,100 murdered last year worldwide were killed by a partner or relative – 30% of femicides in the UK happens outside the home. 30%!
So, what does it cost for the self-perception of women to be fearful at night, just because we’re women? Why is our gender considered to be more up for grabs than the opposite sex? Why don’t our bodies and minds not belong to ourselves? Think about it. It costs our emotions to be fearful.
It costs a lot to have children.
I have two boys. Two incredible, smart, beautiful young boys. I love them. And I’m also very mindful to be a strong female role model for them. I want them to see their mother caring equally about her career as their father does. I want them to see me prepare for a big presentation, getting ready for work, talk about work, and come home in the middle of dinner time. But as any mother committed to their children as well as their career, they also get their fair share of me at drop offs and pick-ups, cuddling and play time, and of course, cooking dinner together.
But I’m still mindful of their experience of me in my own life because I don’t want them to grow up assuming that their parents are not equal. Particularly because we live in a world where my gender is not equal to the one of my partner’s. So yes, it firstly costs a lot emotionally show up for my children as a positive light even if I’ve acquired stress throughout the working day. It also costs a lot, both emotionally and financially to balance a career with being a mother. But it’s a lesson I am proud to give my boys nonetheless, just to prove we can be equal.
It costs a lot to do unpaid care work.
There is no doubt that our little family falls within the statistics of the woman handling most of the unpaid care work. A recent study here in Denmark shows that 10% of a mother’s earnings go to pay for the children, while the father’s earnings go mainly untouched. We fit in that statistic as well. The same study also shows that those 10% every month – along with a gender pay gap of 18% – amounts to 1 million kroner (around £119,000) less in the mother’s retirement savings compared to the father. That’s per child. So, for me, that means 2 million kroner (£238,000) less in my retirement savings, despite all my hard work over the years. So yes, it costs a lot financially to be a woman - it costs our lifetime earning and retirement savings.
Financially and emotionally, it costs a lot.
So, what does it cost to be a woman? It’s expensive financially and emotionally. Women are subject to the emotional baggage that comes from the likes of simply having to walk home at night, the emotional labour given to her family, and all the other emotions that come from not being listened to or heard. And it costs a lot, because with all the emotional requirements women are expected to give to society, whether it being the rock for her children or the embarrassment or shame of being misunderstood in the workplace, women are not able to progress in their careers at the same rate of a man’s – that’s a fact. We’re financially disadvantaged by the simple premise of being a woman. So really women are in a tangled mess of emotional cost driving the financial cost, and vice versa.
How can we turn frustration into a force for positive change?
As you can probably gather by now, I am frustrated. And I’m not going to be apologetic about my frustration so people around me can feel comfortable. I am however going to channel it into something more positive – to make a dent to change the status quo, however small that dent may be. Because equality is worth fighting for! And a world with equality is a beautiful sight to behold. So let’s take this International Women’s Day to reflect. I call on each and everyone of you to do that. And more importantly, let’s use this time to make a positive difference and change the course of injustice that stands in our way.