International Women’s Day 2023

On 8 March we celebrate International Women’s Day, when we highlight the fight for gender equality and advocate for the rights of women in the workplace, in the community and across society as a whole.

Key facts in the Council

69% of workers in the City of Edinburgh Council are women. This is 67% of local government employees and 78% of teachers.

Women are concentrated in the lowest paid jobs, making up

  • 88% of grade 1
  • 73% of grade 2
  • 77% of grade 3.

Female-dominated roles, such as cleaners and catering staff, are more likely to be part time, with 82% of part time workers being women.

Despite the huge social value of these roles—many of which were essential workers during the pandemic—female-dominated jobs are poorly paid.

They are also not well protected. Most employee injuries occur within Education, Children and Justice Services—a service with a predominantly female workforce—and the vast majority of these are due to assault by a service user. There were 2,228 employee injuries in 2022—1,813 of these within Education, Children and Justice Services and 1,468 of these were due to assault.

Progress and the lack thereof in the Council

Over the past two years, we have lobbied councillors to demand that the job evaluation scheme is rewritten to consider the social value of the job and to value caring responsibilities—two aspects entirely absent from the current scheme, devised in 2000. This is a meaningful and fair way to address the gender pay gap. We most recently renewed our call in our deputation to the Council Budget meeting.

We have advocated for better pay, career progression and protection at work for Pupil Support Assistants (PSA), a female-dominated workforce that puts in many hours of unpaid work and constantly undertakes takes beyond the job description.

While we are pleased that the Council supports Unite’s Get Me Home Safely campaign to improve safety for women travelling and from work, progress on this is slow, with the motion being carried in the October 2022 Council meeting.

Sexist language and sexual harassment are still present in many workplaces. The process for reporting prejudice-based incidents is not well promoted or embedded and the bullying and harassment procedure is not fit for purpose. We continue to fight to improve these.

However, to effectively fight and win, we need women in the trade union movement. Our membership is currently:

  • 64% men
  • 35% women
  • 1% unknown
  • 0% other.

We are asking female Council employees to complete our survey on women in trade unions to help us understand and improve women’s representation in trade unions in the Council.

Origins of International Women’s Day

The first National Women’s Day was on 28 February 1909, organised by the women of the Socialist Party of America. This caught the imagination of socialists and women’s rights advocates across the globe. At the second International Conference of Working Women in 1910, Clara Zetkin of the Social Democratic Party of Germany tabled a motion proposing an annual International Women’s Day.

Thus, International Women’s Day was born from the initiative and struggle of socialist women. The first International Women’s Day was celebrated on 19 March 1911 by Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. USA continued to celebrate their National Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February until 1914.

International Women’s Day was first celebrated on 8 March in 1914. On this day, women in the UK marked the occasion with a march demanding suffrage. The British establishment marked the occasion by arresting Sylvia Pankhurst on her way to talk at the rally.

In 1975 the United Nations recognised International Women’s Day.

Scottish activists

For those of you that have visited the Unite office in Edinburgh, you’ll have seen that the rooms are named after notable activists. Here we’ll shed some light on two: Mary Brooksbank and Anna Munro.

Mary Brooksbank (1897 to 1978) was born in Aberdeen and lived in Dundee. She was a mill worker, trade unionist and song writer. She was a prominent activist and fighter for women’s rights and the rights of workers. In 1930 she founded the Working Women’s Guild to demand better health and social services in Dundee.

The lyrics to her ‘Jute Mill Song’ are carved into the Scottish Parliament—we wonder how many of the politicians entering heed these words?

Oh dear me, the warld is ill divided

Them that works the hardest are the least provided

Mary Brooksbank ‘The Jute Mill Song’

Anna Munro (1881 to 1962) was born in Glasgow. She was a campaigner for women’s suffrage and socialist activist. She marched from Edinburgh to London in 1912 to demand votes for women. The following film about her was commissioned to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage.


IWD2023 with Sharon Graham

Unite’s General Secretary, Sharon Graham, is meeting with members in a webinar for International Women’s Day to discuss Unite’s successes and the barriers still to overcome.

The event takes place online using Zoom at 6:30pm on 8 March.

Register for Unite’s IWD 2023 webinar

Women, work and trade unions

Women, work and trade unions is a course by the Marx Memorial Library looking at inequality, women’s oppression and women’s issues at work and in the trade union movement.

The course takes place each Wednesday night 7 to 9pm from 24 May to 14 June and promises to be an excellent opportunity to learn from esteemed tutors:

  • Mary Davis, Professor of Labour History and author of the must-read Women and Class and Comrade or Brother: A History of the British Labour Movement
  • Kellie O’Dowd, academic, campaigner for abortion rights in Northern Ireland and founder member of Reclaim the Agenda, the organising committee for feminist action in Northern Ireland and International Women’s day.

We can assist towards the cost of the course if this is an issue for you.

Book your place on women, work and trade unions

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