How Important is Women’s Day?

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By Shani Asokan 

Ceylon Today Features 

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global event celebrated annually on 8 March to commemorate the cultural, political and socioeconomic achievements of women. Additionally, the day is an important one for the women’s rights movement as it is also a day to highlight and bring attention to issues such as gender inequality, reproductive rights and violence against women.

When did it start?

There were several attempts at designating a day for women and women’s rights, the earliest of which was in 1909, with National Women’s’ Day in the United States. The following year, at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Denmark, women’s rights activist Clara Zetkin called for an international women’s day that would give women a space to highlight their demands for equal rights.

This motion was unanimously approved by the female attendees from 17 countries, including Finlands first three female members of parliament. So, International Women’s Day was marked for the first time in 1911, and the day was fixed as 8 March in 1913.

However, IWD only became a mainstream, global day following its adoption by the United Nations in 1977. IWD is celebrated in different ways around the globe, but the UN observes the holiday by choosing a specific theme to focus on each year. The theme is generally tied to a particular issue or campaign that concerns women’s rights.

Celebrations around the world

IWD is celebrated as a national holiday by several countries around the world, where women are often given flowers and gifts. In some cities, IWD is the day for major events, protests, marches, and other activities that demonstrate and voice women’s struggles, demands and goals for gender equality. This has been the case historically too; in 8 March 1914, there was a women’s suffrage march in London, calling for women’s right to vote. 

In 2001, the official website for IWD was launched with the aim of bringing further attention to the day. Today, the website acts as an all-in-one platform to learn about, keep up to date with and understand IWD and the global movements associated with it.

The United Nations theme

This year’s UN theme for IWD is #BreaktheBias, with the aim of creating a gender equal world that is free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive, where differences are values and celebrated.

Bias, whether unconscious or deliberate can make things very difficult for women, in every aspect of their lives. Be it progress in their careers or access to healthcare, bias can create significant barriers to women’s moving forwards or leading healthy and successful lives. 

Another sub-theme for this year is, “gender equality today, for a sustainable tomorrow” and it highlights climate action for women, by women. Based on data that shows a vital link between gender, social equity and climate change, the theme underscores the fact that without gender equality today, a sustainable and equal future remains out of our reach. 

Climate change is an ever present threat to the world as we know it, and it is no secret that women and girls experience the greatest impact of the climate crisis. This additional burden not only amplifies existing gender inequalities, but also puts women’s lives and livelihoods at risk. All over the world, women and girls lack access to the natural resources they need, and often bare a disproportionate responsibility for securing food, water and fuel.

However, while women and girls bear the greatest burden of climate change,they are also essential change drivers in climate adaptation, mitigation and solutions. As women make up over half of the world’s population, it is unlikely that any plans or solutions for a sustainable planet and a gender equal world will work without their inclusion or involvement.

Gender equality and inclusivity

Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. While it is incredibly easy to perceive gender inequality in the context of the working world, it is not limited to or contained within this realm. Gender inequality affects every aspect of a woman’s life.

There has been some progress over the last few decades. More girls are attending school, fewer girls are being forced into child or teenage marriage, and more women are able to participate in formal politics and serve in parliament across the world. However, despite these steps forwards, many challenges remain. Discriminatory laws and social norms continue to oppress women, and in most parts of the world, women continue to be underrepresented in parliament and other formal arenas of politics. Further, one in five women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a one year period. Women also continue to bare additional burdens when it comes to managing households, providing for families and balancing professional and personal lives. 

It is important to note that the fight for gender equality is not a fight for women alone. Gender inequality affects every single person on this planet as without equal rights and equitable opportunities for women, without just as many seats at the table, and conscious decisions that close the gender gap, our collective path to a sustainable future remains barred. 

Further, the effects of the pandemic has strengthened the challenges to gender equality. In 2021, according to the gender gap index, the parity gap widened further, a trend that has been observed in the last two years. In the pandemic, women play a disproportionate role in responding to the virus, as healthcare workers and carers at home. With lockdowns, school closures and stay at home orders, women’s unpaid care work increased significantly. Women also feel the economic impacts of the pandemic harder and they disproportionately work in insecure labour markets or in the informal economy. The pandemic has also led to more instances of violence against women and girls. 

Thus, the fight to #BreaktheBias is greater than ever, and the time to act is now.