By Laurie Silverstein, CCE Marketing and Social Media Intern
International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. – The United Nations, 2014
The first National Women’s Day was observed in the U.S. on February 28, 1909, and the first International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated on March 19, 1911 by over one million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. Today, IWD is an official holiday in 24 countries and serves as an occasion to both discuss and celebrate the social and political achievements of women across the globe. The day also provokes conversation about the challenges and inequities that women are still facing.
This year’s IWD theme, developed by UN Secretary-General and Spokesperson Ban Ki-moon, was “equality for women is progress for all.” Discussions around the world emphasized human rights, gender equality, and the empowerment of women. Specifically, the 1990 UN Millennium Development Goals most relevant to women were revisited and their progress reassessed
Some of these goals include:
- Supporting women’s food security
- Eliminating legal restrictions to women’s economic empowerment (such as land and inheritance rights)
- Expanding paid work opportunities for women
- Ensuring that all children will be able to fully complete primary school, and eliminating the gender gap in primary and secondary education
- Reducing the “under-five” and the maternal mortality rates by providing more adequate care during pregnancy and childbirth
- Providing universal access to reproductive healthcare and family planning
- Halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal access to treatment if needed: women aged 15-24 have a 50 percent higher risk of contracting the virus as compared to their male counterparts
While some progress on these goals has been made, human rights activists are not entirely satisfied by what has been accomplished. "Commitments...which have enshrined women's rights on paper are important steps. But what do laws and global commitments mean when a third of women globally experience violence, while women are systematically kept out of decision-making and while millions still live in poverty?" says Helen Horne, Chief Executive of WomanKind UK.Bodies such as the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, created in 2010, support the development and implementation of policies that address gender inequity, but, as Horne’s statement indicates, a global culture of misogyny limits the effectiveness of these reforms. “To make rights real for every woman, we need to work to change social norms, economic priorities and our own hearts,” says Yifat Susskind, Executive Director of Madre, an international women’s human rights organization based in New York.
For more information on International Women’s Day, visit IWD’s website or check out #IWD2014 on Facebook and Twitter.