Observed since the early 1900s, International Women’s Day (yesterday) arose from the campaigning of women in a time of rapid industrialisation and social change for equal rights, most notably the right to vote. As a result of a 1910 conference in Copenhagen, attended by over 100 women from 17 countries, a day to celebrate, to inspire and to shed light on gender inequality, International Women’s Day, was born. Although it began with just a handful of countries, IWD is now recognised as an official holiday in countries around the world such as Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Laos, Nepal, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia, celebrated in a variety of ways.
This years also marks the 20th anniversary of the 59th Commission on the Status of Women at the UN, which presents achievements on women’s rights, the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women and 15 years since the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security was adopted. This is also the year in which the post-2015 development goals will be agreed.
Although in the 100 or so years since IWD began we have seen a significant change in women’s role in society, from more women in the boardroom to female prime ministers and astronauts, the battle for true equality is not yet won. Around the world women are more likely to be victims of violence, to have poorer health and lower levels of education.
Work to be done
A post on Duncan Green’s blog From Power to Poverty highlights some key lessons from Oxfam’s work on gender. The most interesting lesson being that it is not just about projects and policy advocacy but to achieve true equality we need to challenge social norms “that underpin identity and injustice”. A recent report by the Gender and Development Network, Turning promises into progress: Gender equality and rights for women and girls – lessons learnt and actions needed, supports the importance of tackling the underlying causes of gender equality, and that failure to do so, in part due to “insufficient political will” has hampered real progress in the last 20 years. The report details extensive recommendations for rectifying this in several areas of work such as Violence against women and girls; Sexual and reproductive health rights; Women’s participation and influence in decision-making; Education; and Women’s economic empowerment and equality. Overarching recommendations include such things as:
- Prioritising and funding interventions to tackle structural barriers to gender equality such as institutional and governmental discrimination, unequal access to resources and exclusion from decision-making.
- Greater funding for women’s rights organisations.
- Investment in promoting positive social norms.
- Reformation of economic policies to explicitly include gender equality.
Overall the report states that we need to mainstream gender across institutions and governments, hold them accountable for their policies and actions, protect women’s rights agendas in the face of multiple growing and emerging global threats and ensure women are part of the decision-making process.
Similarly a guest commentary on The Chicago Council’s on Global Affairs blog, Catching Up on Gender and Nutrition, states that, “the recipe for women’s empowerment and gender equity is…complicated because it must overcome pervasive, seemingly intractable social norms”. The post also mentions Bread for the World Institute’s 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish … We Can End Hunger, which discusses how to build women’s bargaining power, aim for a more equitable sharing of unpaid work and achieve greater representation of women in structures of power such as government.
Although there is much work to do, as these posts and reports highlight, working towards gender equality will produce many positives for women and men, boosting productivity, improving health and nutrition and perhaps bringing a fairer, more balanced society. International Women’s Day is not just a day to reflect on the challenges and the barriers women and girls face but to share inspirational stories, to celebrate wins and to show support. Read women’s stories and hear about the events that took place yesterday here.