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March 8th marks International Women’s Day, a celebratory recognition of the positive contributions made by women across the world, to the development, prosperity and peace of their immediate and wider societies, through every level of their engagement. Contemporary observations seek to inspire respect and value for women; while also identifying acutely tangible and intangible challenges that inhibit gender equity balances. By identifying gender-based obstacles, International Women’s Day seeks to inspire on-going strategic action, which in turn can work to alter cultural attitudes and behaviours, to redress issues.
Women’s Day was first officially observed in 1910 in Europe and the United States as a day of international advocacy for the rights of women. Turn of the century social and political tensions across many states in the northern hemisphere, impacted on the representative agency of individuals within their societies. Within this tipping point, women recognized the opportunity for meaningful change, and openly sought greater participation in political environments, improvements to working conditions and rights as individuals through active representation and protest.
More than a century on from when Women’s Day was first celebrated, significant milestones and improvements to the collective rights of women have been achieved. However, a hundred years is a long time, considering the allocation of these rights, and the journey to bridge the gender equity divide at a universal level, remains uneven, with much distance yet to be travelled before gaps are substantially narrowed.
Factors restraining gender equity are well documented by various sources and advocates. They
but are not limited to, the inequitable access to capital and land resources, education, health, political and economic marginalization. Many of these inequities stem from ingrained normative and cultural expectations of roles women are structured to play. These will inevitably take active and sustained energy for behavioural and attitudinal changes to truly shift.
Potentially the most disturbing inhibitor to the equal rights of women is, however the prevalence of violence against women. On a broad scale, violence leads to exclusion and marginalization, which are two common factors that, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), directly contribute to conflict and insecurity. Despite this knowledge, violence against women continues unabated in all levels of society across the world. The World Bank described violence against women in 2017 as “perhaps the most extreme constraint on voice and agency – (and) remains a global epidemic, affecting more than one in three women over the course of a lifetime.” This is far from progressive and places a huge inhibitory strain on women’s engagement and participation, which in turn impact on the social, economic and cultural development of communities. The individual and global implications of this are potentially catastrophic.
The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) aim to be achieved by 2030 and will have powerful impacts on present and future populations, the environment and its common goods, including positive prospects for sustained peace and development. Achieving these will require determined collective global will, action and commitment.
UN Women see the cache of SDGs as particularly prevalent to the empowerment of women, whom they identify as key stakeholders in prospective development benefits, as well as principal leaders in the movement to achieve all SGDs. In particular, UN Women see SDG Goal 5 – Gender Equity – as the basis on which the rest of the goals will be able to be effectively realised, and warn that “development will only be sustainable if benefits accrue equally to both women and men.”
International Women’s Day allows women and societies across the globe, to appreciate the efforts and contributions made over generations, mostly by women, to narrow the gender equity divide. It also highlights areas of inequity where much attention and concentrated improvement are still needed, including the eradication of violence against women. International Women’s Day is an important commemorative day that celebrates women’s space in society and the positive impacts they make.