First of all – to our readers we wish you a happy International Women’s Day!
During the time leading up to this annual day, we’ve seen more references to and an increasing focus on women’s rights on the internet, from some statistics on gender equality, to inspiring photos of women and even to contributions by female authors on Baby names. 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, as well as the deadline for the UN Millennium Development Goals which set very high targets for the improvement of women’s rights. This certainly gives space, or at the least, a call for some sort of review.
So over the last several decades, how well have we done in terms of achieving gender equality and female empowerment? The short answer is not well. Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women said this in November last year: “not a single country has reached gender parity and equality…” and added that violence against women, especially rape in conflict areas, remains a global phenomenon
It’s certain that there’s still a very long way to go before such visions materialise into the world around us. Events over the last few weeks have only confirmed that the fight for women in countries the world over is very far from being ‘won’. Key examples are incidents such as the case of the Delhi rapist who stated that victims should should not fight back, or statistics that state 90% of campus rapes happen under the influence of alcohol. These are just a few examples, but each point out the desperate need to change the way we educate about consent, at the very least, and need to push for massive, long-lasting cultural change.
Another case from February, when the victim bit off a part of attackers tongue to gather evidence, shows that rape victims are still not taken seriously. Beyond ‘peacetime’ situations, the worrying phenomenon of rape and sexual violence in wars persists while the victims remain silent and censored in societies prone to victim-blaming. In addition to this, anti-abortion violence continues, preventing women from the right to choose over their bodies and to be free from judgment. According to the UN, 70% of women experience violence in their lifetime – an incredibly worrying statistic.
The sobering economic statistics that show the prevalence and extent of gender inequality worldwide.
The struggle isn’t something unique to non-developed countries, of course. In Europe, according to Vera Jourová from the European commission for Justice, Consumption and Gender Equality, there remains room for improvement in terms of the position of women in European society, especially within leadership positions. The current women’s employment rate in Europe is 62.5% versus 74.3% in the case of men, while women are still paid 16% less than men in the same position. Only 20% of leadership positions are filled by women and the disparity in pension payments is as much as 39% less.
International Women’s Day isn’t an outdated or unnecessary concept. There are overwhelming amounts of evidence that as long as women feel threatened and unequal, as long as women cannot walk on their own, free of harrassment of any sort, such a day must remain relevant as a symbol of an important, on-going and worldwide struggle. However, today should not be the only moment in a year when we stop, celebrate what has been achieved while point out that women are still being paid less than men. Rapists, catcallers and human-traffickers won’t magically give up their intentions. The practice of child marriages won’t disappear. Sexism and objectification won’t cease to exist.
Unless, of course, more is done collectively to address the issues women still face today. Drawing attention to particular issues is crucial, but it is the legacy and persistance that makes the difference. International Women’s Day should stand as a pillar; as an inspiration, a motivation and a remainder each and every year to recognise what has been achieved and what still needs to be done. Even if it’s only one year at a time.
Labelled as the ‘beginning of the end of gender inequality’, the follow-up to the Beijing Declaration is going to take place in September this year – “Beijing +20 Recommitting to Women and Girls” will aim set female equality targets to be met by 2030.