Empowering women is empowering humanity

The International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8 every year, is an event that represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality and empowerment.

History tells us that the first International Women’s Day was held in 1911 in New York. It was organized by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.

The event has since been held annually across the globe to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women.

The day was set aside 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.

This year’s theme was “Empowering Women – Empowering Humanity: Picture It!”

Through this theme the United Nations envisions a world where each woman and girl can exercise her choice, such as participating in politics, getting an education, having an income, and living in societies free from violence and discrimination. At the same time it encourages effective action for advancing and recognising women.

In a press statement, the United Nations said the day highlighted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic roadmap signed by 189 governments 20 years ago that sets the agenda for realizing women’s rights.

“While there have been many achievements since then, many serious gaps remain. This is the time to uphold women’s achievements, recognize challenges, and focus greater attention on women’s rights and gender equality to mobilize all people to do their part,” the UN said in the statement.

The UN chief Ban Ki-moon was quoted saying: “To be truly transformative, the post-2015 development agenda must prioritize gender equality and women’s empowerment. The world will never realize 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realize their full potential.”

Even though women and girls are the majority of the world population, they remain poor and marginalised.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reveals that around the world 62 million girls are not in school. And globally, 1 in 3 women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime.

In the developing world, 1 in 7 girls is married before her 15th birthday, with some child brides as young as 8 or 9. Each year more than 287,000 women, 99 percent of them in developing countries, die from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications, according to UNICEF.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) noted that while women make up more than 50 percent of the agriculture labour force, only 3 to 20 percent are landowners and despite representing half the global population, women comprise less than 20 percent of the world’s legislators.

Women account for one-half of the potential human capital in any economy and, according to the World Bank, countries with greater gender equality are more prosperous and competitive and putting women and girls on equal footing with men and boys has the power to transform every sector in which they  work.

There is evidence that women’s participation in politics results in tangible gains for democracy, including greater responsiveness to citizen needs, and increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines.

It is also a well-known fact that when men and women participate in conflict management and peace-building on an equal footing, the result is more cohesive and resilient communities and societies that can maximize their sustainable development potential.

Therefore there is a need for the world to come up with strategies to educate all girls, increasing literacy rates among women, increasing early childhood development interventions, increasing women’s labour force participation and strengthening labour policies affecting women.

Governments need to improve women’s access to credit, land and other resources promoting women’s political rights and participation. There is a need for expansion of reproductive health programmes and family support policies.

I strongly believe that empowering women and girls is not only the right thing to do: It’s also smart economics and vital to ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity.

May 2015
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