Mason Stevens
Macro & Markets
10 Mar, 2021

International Women’s Day (IWD) is not new. Its origin dates back to February 28th 1909, thanks to the Socialist Party of America in New York City. Attendees cited the need for a reoccurring and more formalised event with credit to a 15,000 woman march in 1908 to protest low pay and poor working conditions.

This 1909 event was newsworthy in Germany, where delegates from the original Women’s Day proposed making it an annual event.

This took on more meaning in 1917 when women gained suffrage in Russia and March 8th becoming a public holiday in Russia.

The United Nations recognises and celebrates March 8th each year as International Women’s Day, formally recognised in 1977.

To commemorate, IWD is a nationwide holiday in some countries – including Russia, Vietnam, Cuba, Laos, Afghanistan.

The current form of IWD is a global day to celebrate social, economic and political achievements of women.


This year’s thematic is #choosetochallenge, a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

Gender parity or gender equality is a state of equal access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender.

This is usually associated with the differential in wages between men and women – which is important – but focusing on this solely misses the point that access to resources and opportunities comes through awareness and transparency, not just through economic compensation for work.

Longstanding Issues

It is said that as long as one woman faces discrimination, harassment, inequality or oppression, all people do.

Inequality, No Longer

I’ve been lucky enough to have strong, intelligent and passionate women in my life – my wife, friends, family and colleagues – that have shown me day in and day out that women should have the same access to opportunities that men do.

I’ve also, sadly, seen many of these brilliant women discriminated in various ways and events, affected by situations that should not occur in the 21st century.

For me, International Women’s Day is a day of hope for a better future, where future generations may not need to live through these situations that negatively impact their lives.

In this regard, we’re seeking to increase our quality of life.

Recessions and their Impact on Equality

Historically, multi-lateral recessions are levelling events, where men and women are affected by the same events, and we see spikes in unemployment.

For example, if you worked at Lehman Brothers in the 2007/2008 Global Financial Crisis, you were subsequently unemployed as the company filed for bankruptcy, regardless of your gender identity.

Because of this levelling, recessionary events provided periodic resets to many people’s wages and were key periods in re-aligning wages and addressing gender pay gaps between men and women.

COVID-19 proved different from recessions of the last century, which were usually economic in nature.

COVID-19 was and is a healthcare issue, that affected more of the globe and caused certain gender archetypes to re-emerge.

COVID-19 Issues

The healthcare crisis affected those with the lowest education, lowest pay and lowest bargaining power (both workplace and domestic).

Sectors that were affected most were hospitality, childcare and tourism – where women are the majority of employees.

For some nations these effects were short lived, but in others the impacts are still persisting.

To list a few:

Specifically in Australia

In the last Commonwealth Budget, Women’s Economic Security Statement totalled $231 million AUD for women’s employment over the following 4 financial years (Budget Paper 2).

That’s 57-58 million per year, or 0.04% of the total Budget expenditure, which is tokenistic and inadequate.

To address this, our Employment Minister stated that the government’s tax cuts would benefit women as well – which missed the main concern of the healthcare crisis that women had given up employment and had less access to childcare (and subsidies), so weren’t earning as much as before to receive these increases in take-home pay.

MP Tim Wilson also suggested that women fleeing domestic violence should use their superannuation to fund themselves rather than receive assistance from the Government.

We also need to address that women are now a disproportionate recipients of unemployment benefits, due to persistent underemployment relative to men.

Micro-Economic Solutions

While we all need to be aware of the issues – and the above was by no means comprehensive as we do try to keep within 1200 words in these morning notes – we also need to be aware of solutions so that we can propose and implement them.

The current strategy is to raise awareness through education and communication and to see people’s attitudes adapt to reflect their realities.

We’ve seen this take place for decades and centuries already, where multi-culturalism reduces racism within communities through increased knowledge and tolerance, and in time, leading to acceptance and trust.

Think of how far we’ve come since 1978 – the first Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras – where 53 people were arrested and many brutally beaten by police and security. Fast forward to today, where it would be inconceivable for police as representatives of government policy to act in this way.

The IZA Institute has found that men express more egalitarian attitudes towards women if they’ve experienced being out of work or unemployed while their female partner continues working.

There are also scores of peer-reviewed studies showing how the availability of parental leave assists gender equality, specifically dedicated parental leave for fathers; and also assists closing the male-female pay gap where women have less protracted career breaks from employment to conform to archetypical child rearing.

It also goes to show that when women are empowered with choice, that the family unit is more fluid a concept, where women exercise their choices, they don’t always conform to traditional family definitions.

Certain industries still have large gender-labour supply imbalances.

Women are under-represented relative to men in construction, finance and politics, whereas women are over-represented in hospitality, tourism and healthcare – generally lower paying industries with less on-the-job skills training.

These are also industries that have different work-from-home capacities.

Something that was instrumental in women leaving the labour force during 2020 was they had a higher probability of working in a lower-skilled, physically-attended occupation, with less exposure to tertiary/services “white collar” work that is more applicable to work-from-home setups. This exacerbated women needing to quit jobs to look after children and is an area worth addressing in the future to avoid the severe economic fallout of this crisis.

Lastly, I found an interesting study from the Irish central bank that cited a lack of diversity within financial institutions as a signal of culture risk and “elevated behaviour”. What this means was that a homogenous cultural/gender/education participation in FI companies leads to herd mentalities, prone to higher correlations of behaviour, with financial markets over-pricing more often due to this group think.

Moving Forward

If we’re all more aware of gender biases we’re statistically more likely to challenge inequalities.  From an economic standpoint, our nation has so much more to gain from further economic empowerment of women or 51% of the global working population.

Individually, we’re responsible for our own thoughts and actions, all day, every day.

Collectively, we can #choosetochallenge and help create a more inclusive world.

As former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam stated in 1969 on equal access to education, but applies broadly to all forms of equal access:

“We are all diminished when any of us are denied proper education. The nation is the poorer – a poorer economy, a poorer civilisation, because of this human and national waste.”

Further reading

This year’s theme >>

IWD Events >>

World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts >>

Catalyst, workplaces that work for women (a job search website) >>

Equality Now >>

Womankind >>

Dress for Success >>

Nomi Network, ending slavery through economic empowerment >>