With International Women's Day calling for a she-covery, or women-centric and minorities-focused return to better-than-normal, the voices of women has never been more important.
Anita Bhatia, UN Women deputy executive director, said that 25 years of progress on gender equality could be wiped out with just one year of the pandemic. Why?
- Women were more likely to be furloughed or made redundant from industries like tourism, beauty and childcare.
- According to some studies, women were twice as likely to need time off to look after children, without pay
- 90% of single-parents are women, meaning with no school, juggling home and work responsibilities became even more challenging
- Young women found themselves disproportionately in sectors facing shutdown
- Women lost control of their reproductive health due to inability to access critical healthcare options
- Not to mention a 30% increase in women needing help whilst facing abuse in the home
And it's much worse in developing countries. Looking through the lens of climate change, we also find that women are disproportionately affected.
So, with feminists, women's unions and powerful female spokespersons continuing to speak out about these issues, it feels like a slap in the face when companies like Pretty Little Thing enter the stage with t-shirts that read 'empowered'.
Why is this bad?
Surely raising awareness and donating the proceeds to worthy causes is a good thing?
Yes. But this is an example of Femwashing: when a company uses it's marketing to capitalise on women's rights and equality, when at it's core it is simply a new tactic to profit from real-world injustices within a capitalist system. It serves to keep women where they are, not liberate them.
Performative feminism is linked to this idea and describes the 'fly the flag' approach to women's rights issues, whereby participation in change is only as meaningful as wearing a slogan slapped on a t-shirt. It is the 'commodification of feminism'.
Similarly, the commodification of the environmental movement is also a risk, as we work to buy our way out of our challenges rather than fix the system that perpetuated it in the first place.
Pretty Little Thing, owned by Boohoo, is one of a number of companies using this tactic. On the face of it, they parade female-empowerment as aligned closely with their mission. Peel back the surface layer however they have poor labour standards, pay their garment workers less than the minimum wage (£3.50 in the UK!) and have put lives at risk throughout the pandemic by not providing distancing and PPE. Not to mention have refused to sign up to the Ethical Trading Initiative.
Did you know?
- Approximately 80% of garment workers worldwide are women
- In a $1.2 trillion-a-year industry, workers can earn as little as $21 a month
- With a cheap price tag, somewhere, someone is paying
In the same way we need to ensure sustainability doesn't become reduced to buying a 'recycled' piece of clothing from fast fashion houses because it sounds green, we must ensure that equality doesn't become reduced to buying feminist slogans on t-shirts made by underpaid and underrepresented women.
Fast fashion houses exploit female garment workers whilst selling cheap clothes to Western women. It makes no sense.
Empowering women means ALL women.
To quote Venetia La Manna - "Solidarity is not a t-shirt."