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This briefing has been prepared in advance of the debate due to take place in the House of Lords on 7 March 2019 on the motion moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford (Conservative) to mark International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day takes place on 8 March each year. The day is celebrated in many countries worldwide and aims to recognise women’s achievements, regardless of national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences. Both the United Nations and the International Women’s Day Digital Hub have announced annual themes for 2019 which aim to highlight specific issues faced by women, such as the gender digital divide, and innovative encourage solutions to reduce gender disparity.

Global and domestic gender disparities remained in 2018. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report found that across the themes of economic participation and opportunity, education, health, and political participation, the average progress made on closing the global gender gap stood at 68%, a “marginal” improvement on 2017. In addition, the United Nations reported that “the disadvantages facing women and girls are a major source of inequality and one of the greatest barriers to human development progress”. The UN also highlighted that in 2017: 21% of women between 20 and 24 years of age were married or in an informal union before they were 18 years old; 1 in 3 girls aged 15 to 19 had been subject to female genital mutilation in 30 countries; and in around 90 countries women spent roughly three times as many hours in unpaid domestic and care work as men between 2000 and 2016.

Domestically, the World Economic Forum placed the UK as the 15th most gender-equal country of the 149 assessed in 2018. Data produced by the Office for National Statistics found that the gender pay gap in the UK fell to 8.6% among full time employees in 2018. However, the gap among all employees was higher (17.9%), which the ONS attributed to the number of women working in part-time jobs, with these often lower paid. In addition, in 2018, the number of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) occupations in the UK grew by 44,040 women compared to 2017. However, a larger increase in the number of men joining the sector meant that the percentage of women in the core STEM workforce decreased from 23% in 2017, to 22% in 2018. The National Audit Office reported that in terms of education, “females are under-represented in most STEM subjects at every stage of the STEM skills pipeline.”

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