The month of March focuses on women’s history and celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) which champions gender equality. Although there are thousands of women and men fighting each day around the world for change, this month is an opportunity for them to celebrate together the great progress that has been made and to also highlight the great inequalities that remain. Unfortunately, we all know that inequality is still very much a reality; socially, economically and politically. Globally, women’s education, health and incidence of violence are still worse than that of men and changes are not coming fast enough for the millions of women who are suffering from the inequities.
The Human Rights Act determines that women should have the right to live free from violence, slavery, and discrimination; to be educated; to own property; to vote; and to earn a fair and equal wage. Yet almost everywhere around the world, women and girls are still being denied these rights, often simply because of their gender. In many countries, including those that appear to uphold gender laws, some women are still forced into marriages, have little choice but to be subservient to the men in their families, have no rights within the home, have little say in their rights to their own body and are denied access to what are considered basic human liberties.
These circumstances necessitate the continued efforts of what began over a century and a half ago when women came together to improve the social, civil and religious conditions and rights of women. Over generations, women have continued to come together to affect staggering changes; changes in mostly democratic ways through meetings, petition drives, lobbying, public speaking and nonviolent resistance.
There have also been movements, albeit in the minority, that have been violent and self-sacrificing to the point of starvation and martyrdom. Women who felt they had to use desperate measures in order to be heard. These tactics, depending on your perspective, have hindered or helped the cause along the way; some say it closed doors while others believe the opposite. Nevertheless, women have not been the passive beneficiaries of miraculous changes in laws and human nature, they have worked very deliberately to create a better world; succeeding globally in varying degrees in family life, Government, education and employment. Regrettably, there is a need for so much more.
From the 19th century into the 21st, the cause continues relentlessly to ensure women and girls gain full access to their rights; from equal pay to land ownership rights, freedom from violence, to access to education, from maternal health rights to sexual rights. This year, the theme for IWD 2017 is “Be Bold for Change”; encouraging people to step up and take ground-breaking action to help drive gender equality forward by challenging bias and inequality, campaigning against violence, forging women’s advancement, celebrating women’s achievements and championing women’s education. While our rights and conditions vary starkly depending on where we live, even within the same country, the message is that if we are as progressive and as bold as our predecessors (without the violence!), we can be instrumental in the movement for gender equality on many levels.
There are other, fundamental ways in which we can support the movement, most obviously by the way we raise the next generation. What we teach our daughters to aspire to, to accept and to fight for and how we teach our sons to act, what to accept and fight for is instrumental in closing the equality gap. Attitudes are not automatic aligned to laws and it is imperative that the ensuing generations attitudes are changed; that they understand and embrace equality.
Sadly, it is predicted that it will take another century and half before the gender gap closes completely. Of course that prediction can be redirected if more of us passionately push for change and commit to making unwavering, concerted efforts. So many of us are reaping the benefits of the hard work of the women who came before us, but so many more are living in conditions we can only imagine; the gap between the equality among women is also huge. It is our responsibility to pave the way now for our daughters and ensure each subsequent generation gets closer to the goal. Perhaps when women take more leadership and peace-making roles and have an equal political voice, countries will be transformed and women and girls will have their entitlement of self-determination.