"No woman or girl should fear for her life because of who she is," said Ghada Waly, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
International Women's Day, on Mar 8, has its seed in the labour movement in the US. In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City to protest against unequal pay, terrible working conditions and exploitation, and no voting rights — their demands were shorter working hours, better wages and the right to vote.
An International Women's Conference was organised in August 1910 by Clara Zetkin, a German suffragist. She proposed a special Women's Day to be organised annually. Following that, International Women's Day was celebrated in 1911 in Austria-Hungary, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and the US, with more than one million attending rallies. Later women in Soviet Russia brought out processions demanding their right to vote, and this demand was accepted in 1917. On Aug 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, and white women were granted the right to vote in the US. Later the labour movement in the 1960s helped ratify the Voting Rights Act, allowing all women the right to vote.
Though we have come a long way, women still face extreme inequalities and injustice.
According to a report from the International Women's Development Agency:
About 45,000 women and girls were killed by their male partners or family members in 2021
More than five women and girls were killed every hour by a family member in 2021, according to new UN figures on femicide.
In 47 countries, there are no consequences for husbands who rape their wives.
There are no specific laws against domestic violence in 45 countries.
Around 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men.
Globally, 30 percent of women have experienced sexual or physical violence in their lifetime.
Aren't these reasons enough to call for a united effort to stop these injustices towards women? IWD is, maybe, just a day, but it does remind us of these heinous crimes perpetrated against our mothers, sisters, daughters and co-workers.
We celebrate International Women's Day, also known as IWD, globally each year to create a gender-equal society. It's a day to honour women for their contributions to the family, community and the world; to celebrate women's social, economic, cultural, and political achievements; to create awareness and remove gender inequality. This day also focuses on women's rights on issues like education, reproductive rights, violence and abuse and equal pay.
More than a century ago, women brought out processions for equal rights, equal pay, and an end to exploitation at home and in the workplace. Sadly, those issues are still prevalent today.
According to UN agencies:
Women in Africa spend an estimated 200 million hours collecting water daily.
Two-thirds of the world's 796 million illiterate people are women.
The number of women victims experiencing violence is 1 in 3.
More than 82 million women worldwide don't have any legal protections against workplace discrimination.
Around 650 million women are married before the age of 18 worldwide.
Over 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have undergone female genital mutilation.
Among all human trafficking, 71 percent are women and girls.
Worldwide statistics reveal that climate change and conflicts increase violence against women and girls because of the displacement of shelters and their vulnerability.
Case studies reveal a high number of human rights violations, including domestic abuse, sexual assault, and violence against women. Another study, based on 51 countries, shows 38 percent of women have faced online violence.
We need to change this scenario by holding hands together. We have to mobilise women as well as men to work in this direction.
Policies and laws to address gender-based violence aren't enough. Strict measures should be taken to implement the law to fight against these injustices towards women.
IWD is observed by the UN each year with a particular issue, campaign, or theme for women's rights.
The theme for 2023 is 'DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality'.
The modern world revolves around strong technological integration: almost everything is processed digitally, from education to work or medicare. Women account for nearly half the world's population, yet, 37 percent of women do not use the internet, and 259 million fewer women have access to the internet than men. Inadequate internet access minimises their opportunities to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It's estimated that by 2050, 75 percent of jobs will be related to STEM. Regrettably, the lack of access for women in technology deprives them of opportunities on a high scale.
The IWD 2023 theme focuses on the significance of ensuring women's and girls' rights in digital spaces and addressing online and ICT-facilitated gender-based violence under the theme. Digital education will also help increase awareness among women and girls about their rights.
Bringing women into technology will also lessen the digital gender gap widening the economic and social advancement for them and the world as a whole.
Goal 5 of the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The 17 SDGs are interdependent. A positive outcome will only be attainable when these goals are materialised. Goal 5 is a fundamental human right for women and a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.
The theme for the 2023 International Women's Day campaign is "Embrace Equity".
Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities.
Equity recognises that each person is different and has different circumstances to cope with. Equity aims to ensure justice, fair treatment, impartiality, equality of opportunities and allocation of resources to each individual's needs, regardless of race, age, ethnicity, religion, ability, gender, and sexual orientation, to reach an equal outcome and advancement for everyone.
At the same time, it also attempts to identify and remove the barriers that prevent some individuals or groups from fully participating.
Creating and embracing equity is a precondition to shifting mindsets and creating affirming, equitable and inclusive spaces in education, work and the domestic environment. Moreover, it's important to realise that using gender-inclusive language is a powerful tool to help shape cultural and social attitudes, promote gender equality and eradicate gender bias.
IWD is a time for everyone, regardless of gender or gender identity, to celebrate women's progress towards equality and remember how much more work has to be done. Achieving gender equality should be as important for men as for women.
Purple is the colour of the day for women. The colour symbolises justice and dignity for women internationally. A combination of purple, green and white symbolises the equality of women, which originated from the Women's Social and Political Union in the UK in 1908. Yellow colour has recently been introduced, representing a 'new dawn'.
IWD is an excellent reminder that millions of women: our mothers, sisters, wives, co-workers and human beings, are out there struggling to establish their rights worldwide.
Let's celebrate International Women's Day and honour the successful women around us, reminding today's generation that their dreams can come true.
Each of us can individually and collectively act and extend support to bring positive social change in the world.
Won't you be a part of making this world a better, beautiful place where all can live in a united, unified harmony?
Equity means creating an inclusive world unconditionally. Equality is the goal, and equity can lead us there.
Will you embrace equity and be a part of helping bring equality in the true sense of the word?
Let's act and make it happen!
[Tasneem Hossain is a multilingual poet, columnist, op-ed and fiction writer, translator and training consultant. She is the Director of Continuing Education Centre, Bangladesh.]
1. International Women's Day, Mar 8, United Nations.
2. Facts about Women's Rights, Womankind, Worldwide.
3. Demirel, Ebru, Women and girls are more at risk to be killed at home, new UNODC and UN Women report on femicide shows, United Nations Türkiye, Nov 23, 2022.