I have a complicated relationship with International Women’s Day (IWD). On the one hand, it vexes me greatly that we have only one day a year – designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1977 as March 8 – to celebrate the many contributions of women around the world. On the other hand, we still need to focus attention on the fact that women, who make up half of the world’s population, still face almost incomprehensible inequality in societies throughout the world. Not just inequality, but inexcusable pain and violence.
One in three women in the world still experience violence (including rape and marital rape, spousal abuse, and child abuse) in their lifetime. The numbers are closer to one in four in the West – numbers that are still shockingly high.
Even before birth, preference for male children leads to feticide and infanticide in many parts of the world. Millions of girls and women around the world face obstacles to education, access to health, freedom of choice in marriage and divorce, land ownership and political participation. Even in the West, women continue to face inequality, including professional obstacles.
The UN theme for IWD 2014 is “equality for women is progress for all”. And there is no question that that statement is true. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement for IWD 2014:
“Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.”
IWD means different things to different people around the world. For some, it is a day to celebrate the strength of personal relationships with mothers, grandmothers, daughters and friends. Some choose to celebrate the overall contributions of women; in 2014, I noticed a particular interest in celebrating the “bad ass” women in our collective history (which I do applaud). For others, it is the opportunity to highlight all that still remains to be done.
For me, IWD is all these things. It is also about wanting a world where my daughter and my sons are treated equally without thought or legal requirement. It is about teaching them that this is what they – both boys and girl – should expect in their future. But it is also about celebrating the strong community of women that has brought us this far.
I took this photo of a painting that hung in the stairwell of a hotel I stayed in last year in Yaounde. It was dark in the stairwell, but I paused every time I passed it. The painting appeared original, but there was no name given to it. No artist was listed. But for me, it captures the spirit of International Women’s Day. We still have a ways to go, but we are together in this effort. We learn from each other and we support each other. Here is my perspective on International Women’s Day 2014:
It may take us time, but when women work together, nothing can stop us.