(HN, March 8, 2011) -- Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, which was held by only a handful of European countries in 1911 – where more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, hold public office and end discrimination.
Themes on politics, human rights, and gender equality continue to create social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide.
In the past century much progress has been made in gender equality – in 1911 only a few countries in the world allowed women to vote – New Zealand, South Australia (both self-governing British colonies) and the Grand Duchy of Finland - today that right is practically universal.
However, there are still many challenges for women and girls around the world. According to UN Women, the Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment for Women, almost two out of three illiterate adults are women, girls are still less likely to be in school than boys, and every 90 seconds of every day, a woman dies in pregnancy or do to childbirth-related complications.
Women, around the globe, continue to earn less than men for the same work. In addition and despite many high-profile advances, women still make up only 19 percent of legislatures, 8 percent of peace negotiators, and 28 women are heads of state or government.
The International Labour Organization (IOL) Director General Juan Somavia has said that “achieving gender equality remains a major challenge for the labor movement in the world because securing sustainable and equitable recovery and a fair globalization demand gender-aware responses.” Somavia made the statement while reacting to ILO’s latest report which disclosed that both women and men continue to feel the impact of the economic crisis, with the global unemployment rate for men standing at 6 percent in 2010 and at 6.5 percent for women.
In some countries IWD is designated as a national holiday - Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia
In Armenia, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, IWD celebrations were abandoned. Instead, April 7 was introduced as a state holiday for “Beauty and Motherhood”. The new holiday immediately became popular among Armenians, as it commemorates one of the main holidays of the Armenian Church, the Annunciation.
To celebrate IWD, Italian men give yellow mimosas to women. Yellow mimosas and chocolates are also among the most common March 8 presents in Russia and Albania. The mimosa’s bright yellow is seen as a symbol of vitality, joy, wisdom and warmth.
In Pakistan, working women celebrate IWD to commemorate their ongoing struggle for due rights, despite facing many cultural and religious restrictions.
In poor developing countries, especially is where we most often see gender inequality and abuses facing women daily.
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn expose major abuses of women in developing countries in their book Half the Sky. They tell stories of women being victimized by their government, by their communities, by relatives, strangers until there is no where left to turn. However, what is inspiring about this book is that women who survived became business owners, activists, community organizers teachers, teachers, surgeons, and mothers who could show their children an example of a strong, valuable woman who is making a living, participating in household decisions, and respected by her husband and community.
60 percent of the worlds one billion poorest people are female; women work two-thirds of working hours but earn only 10 percent of the income.
Dr. Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE, a humanitarian organization working to end global poverty points out that “women and girls bear the brunt of poverty and it is clear that women are our greatest hope for ending it.”
Gayle goes on to say that “for every year of education that a woman can have, she is more likely to have good health, to give birth to a child who survives and to send that child to school.”
Many organizations, such as the Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect, Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 women and Exxon Mobil’s Women’s Economic Opportunity and more believe that investing early in a girl’s life, before she becomes a woman, only amplifies the potential of what she can do in life and yields a greater return for everyone around her.
- HUMNews Staff