Did you know International Women’s Day (IWD) is globally recognized and celebrated annually on March 8th? Neither did I, until I began researching this article. Why is that? Women make up 49.6 percent of the population worldwide and (as of 2019) 50.5 percent of the United States population. Shouldn’t half the world be aware of a whole day celebrating the achievements of women? I took classes in Feminist thought . . .
What am I missing?
Upon further investigation, International Women’s Day not only celebrates women, but emphasizes raising awareness about women’s equality, lobbying for accelerated gender parity, and fundraising for female focused charities like World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and Catalyst. While it was officially recognized by the United Nations in 1975, IWD celebrations overall have been sporadic, and they run the gamut of celebrations equivalent to Mother’s Day in some countries, to being almost completely ignored in others. Surprisingly, the United States seems to fall in the category of the latter.
How is that possible?
The United States has a long history of advancement of women’s rights. Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, bell hooks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, RBG, and others, are all hailed as game changers for females in America. In 2011, the centennial celebration of the very first Women’s Day, the month of March was declared Women’s History Month by President Barack Obama. But “feminism” is a complex construct that is difficult to fully define for every individual. Conflicting viewpoints can muddy the waters, even to the detriment of examining overarching societal dysfunctions. Perhaps therein lies the issue. Are we too narrow in our focus? Are Westerners spoiled and complacent, blind to the plight of others who have not yet reached the levels of equality attained in the US? Or are we simply paralyzed to even begin to know how to help? Some facts to consider:
- In January 2019, there were only 11 women serving as Head of State and 10 as Head of Government in the world (source. UN Women, 2019).
- When women are involved in negotiations the probability of a peace agreement lasting at least two years is increased by 20 percent, and 15 years by 35 percent (source. Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, and Securing the Peace: A Global Study on Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325, 2015).
- Less than 15% of landholders worldwide are women, despite most women in the global south working in agriculture (source. Food and Agriculture Organization, 2015; World Bank, 2019).
- In 2018, the estimated global gender pay gap was 22%, with women earning around 78% of what men are paid (source. ILO, 2018).
- According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women experience violence.
- Over 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have undergone female genital mutilation (source. UNICEF, 2016).
- 71% of all human trafficking involves women and girls – mainly for sexual exploitation (source. UNODC, 2016).
With shortcomings of this magnitude, it feels like we are fighting two different wars. But in reality, poverty, sexism, violence, inequality, and health (physical and mental) are all connected and we cannot rid ourselves of one problem without addressing them all, on every level, in every part of the world. To quote Audre Lorde, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
So . . . what to do?
The simple answer is to support International Women’s Day. But in more complex terms, we must support the purpose as a whole: advancement for women worldwide. By lobbying and fundraising we empower not only this generation but those who come behind us. According to the World Economic Forum, unfortunately, we will not see gender parity in our lifetime. However, we shouldn’t settle for our children not having a hope of seeing it in theirs. The mission of International Women’s Day is crucial to true freedom in every country in the world. The 2021 Theme of IWD is Choose to Challenge. “A challenged world is an alert world. And from challenge comes change. So let’s all #ChooseToChallenge.” Let March 8th be a day of reading, learning, and celebrating women. March 9th will spark a new beginning of thinking, challenging, implementing, and supporting our sisters across the globe with all the tools we possess.