Women to the fore | Daily News

Women to the fore

“The best protection any woman can have... is courage.” - Elizabeth Cady Stanton, American suffragist and social activist

When the Time Magazine honoured the “Silence Breakers” as its Person of the Year 2017, the world took notice of a rising wave of resistance and protests against the harassment of girls and women worldwide. The “Me Too” movement on social media amplified the voices of those who spoke up against violence targeted at women.

Today, on International Women's Day (IWD), there will be renewed focus on the issue of sexual and physical harassment against women, as well the gender pay gap, under-representation of women in politics, business and other professions, trafficking and slavery of women, the lack of educational opportunities for women in many countries and inequality.

The first women's day was observed in February 1909 when 15,000 women marched through the streets of New York demanding improved pay, shorter hours and voting rights. An annual “international women's day” was first organised by the German socialist and theorist Clara Zetkin along with 100 delegates from 17 countries in March 1911. In 1975, the United Nations proclaimed the year International Women’s Year and christened March 8 as Women’s Day. IWD is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day is also a call to action through events large and small focusing on equality. It is also a national holiday in many countries.

This year, there are two dominant themes for IWD. The theme “#Press for Progress” is a push for gender parity worldwide. Women are predicted to face another 118-year wait for the gender pay gap to close, with only 55 of the 500 richest people in the world being women. Many leading companies have admitted that women receive lower pay and are working to rectify it.

In politics, only a fifth of parliamentary seats worldwide are held by women and only 19 Heads of State out of a possible 196 are women - only seven more women than 20 years ago. Despite producing the world’s first woman Prime Minister way back in 1960, Sri Lanka fares rather badly in this aspect, with women’s representation being just 6 percent in Parliament and 2 percent at Local Government level, though the last Local Government Poll sought to rectify this by stipulating a 25 percent quota for women.

More than a third of women worldwide have also experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives mostly at the hands of relatives and close associates, with this being most common between teenage years and menopause. One in three girls in the developing world is married off before the 18th birthday, amounting to more than 15 million girls every year. More than 140 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of female genital mutilation. Clearly, there is much progress still to be made.

The other main theme “The Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives” is also appropriate in today’s context. This year, International Women’s Day comes on the heels of unprecedented global movement for women’s rights, equality and justice. Sexual harassment, violence and discrimination against women has captured headlines and public discourse, propelled by a rising determination for change. International Women’s Day 2018 is an opportunity to transform this momentum into action, to empower women in all settings, rural and urban, and celebrate the activists who are working relentlessly to claim women’s rights and realize their full potential. International Women’s Day will draw attention to the rights and activism of rural women, who make up over a quarter of the world population and majority of the 43 percent of women in the global agricultural labour force. For instance, less than 20 percent of landholders worldwide are women, and while the global pay gap between men and women stand at 23 per cent, in rural areas, it can be as high as 40 percent. They lack infrastructure and services, decent work and social protection, and are left more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

IWD is also an opportunity to consider how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda, on Sustainable Development Goals, especially goal number 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Some key targets of the 2030 Agenda are: By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education; End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere; Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation; Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. The target year is only 12 years away, but most, if not all, of these goals can be achieved if States have the political will to enact the necessary legislative and other tangible changes. The time for change and action is now.

“If you want something said, ask a man; If you want something done, ask a woman” – Margaret Thatcher, former British PM


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