Today, we embrace International Women’s Day and we remember the strong, willful and courageous women who rallied and striked against inequality and deep-rooted discrimination, and paved the way for the freedom and rights that some of us enjoy today.
We have come a long way since the winter of February 28, 1909 when the Socialist Party of America celebrated National Women’s Day and bravely took to the streets to honor women garment workers who had protested against inhumane working conditions the year before. A year later, the Social International established Women’s Day in Copenhagen to celebrate those working for women’s rights and universal suffrage. Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland followed on March 19, 1911 to celebrate the first official International Women’s Day when more than one million people attended rallies focused on suffrage, representation, education, and workers’ rights. Over the next few decades, more European countries marked the holiday on March 8, and during International Women’s Year in 1975, the United Nations celebrated it as an official holiday on March 8 to celebrate women’s contributions to society, to raise awareness about the ongoing fight for gender parity, and to inspire support for organizations that help women globally.
112 years later, most nations claim to support women and advocate for women empowerment, yet shocking crimes against women are on the rise, not just in underdeveloped and developing nations, but in developed countries as well. “Twenty-five years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, progress towards equal power and equal rights for women remains elusive. No country has achieved gender equality, and the COVID-19 crisis threatens to erode the limited gains that have been made. The Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals and efforts to recover better from the pandemic offer a chance to transform the lives of women and girls, today and tomorrow” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
The key facts according to the United Nations Global Database on Violence against Women should not only anger us, it must activate us.
1) Globally, around 1 of 3 women (35%) have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, or sexual violence by a non-partner. This figure does not include sexual harassment. Some national studies show that the number can be as high as 70 per cent of women, and that rates of depression, having an abortion, and acquiring HIV are higher in women who have experienced this type of violence compared to women who have not.
2) Calls to helplines have increased five-fold in some countries as rates of reported intimate partner violence increase because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Restricted movement, social isolation, and economic insecurity are increasing women’s vulnerability to violence in the home around the world.
3) 137 women are killed by a member of their family every day. It is estimated that of the 87,000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017 globally, more than half (50,000) were killed by intimate partners or family members. More than a third (30,000) of the women intentionally killed in 2017 were killed by their current or former intimate partner.
4) Less than 40 per cent of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort. In the majority of countries with available data on this issue, among women who do seek help, most look to family and friends and very few look to formal institutions, such as police and health services. Less than 10 per cent of those seeking help appealed to the police.
5) At least 155 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, and 140 have laws on sexual harassment in the workplace. However, even when laws exist, this does not mean they are always compliant with international standards and recommendations, or are implemented and enforced.
6) Adult women account for nearly half (49 per cent) of all human trafficking victims detected globally. Women and girls together account for 72 per cent, with girls representing more than three out of every four child trafficking victims. Most women and girls are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
7) In 2019, one in five women, aged 20–24 years, were married before the age of 18. During the past decade, the global rate of child marriage has declined, with South Asia having the largest decline during this time. Today, the risk of child marriage is highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than one in three women, aged 20–24 years, were married before the age of 18. Child marriage often results in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupts schooling, and increases a girl’s risk of experiencing domestic violence .
8) At least 200 million women and girls, aged 15–49 years, have undergone female genital mutilation in 31 countries where the practice is concentrated. Half of these countries are in West Africa. There are still countries where female genital mutilation is almost universal, where at least 9 in 10 girls and women, aged 15–49 years, have been cut.
9) 15 million adolescent girls worldwide, aged 15–19 years, have experienced forced sex. In the vast majority of countries, adolescent girls are most at risk of forced sex (forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts) by a current or former husband, partner, or boyfriend. Based on data from 30 countries, only one per cent have ever sought professional help.
10) School related gender-based violence is a major obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls. Globally, one in three students, aged 11–15, have been bullied by their peers at school at least once in the past month, with girls and boys equally likely to experience bullying. While boys are more likely to experience physical bullying than girls, girls are more likely to experience psychological bullying, and they report being made fun of because of how their face or body looks more frequently than boys.
11) One in 10 women in the European Union report having experienced cyber-harassment since the age of 15. This included having received unwanted and/or offensive sexually explicit emails or SMS messages, or offensive and/or inappropriate advances on social networking sites. The risk is highest among young women aged 18–29 years.
12) In the Middle East and North Africa, 40–60 per cent of women have experienced street-based sexual harassment. In the multi-country study, women said the harassment was mainly sexual comments, stalking or following, or staring or ogling. Between 31 and 64 per cent of men said they had carried out such acts. Younger men, men with more education, and men who experienced violence as children were more likely to engage in street sexual harassment.
13) Across five regions, 82 per cent of women parliamentarians reported having experienced some form of psychological violence while serving their terms. This included remarks, gestures and images of a sexist or humiliating sexual nature, threats, and mobbing. Women cited social media as the main channel of this type of violence, and nearly half (44 per cent) reported receiving death, rape, assault, or abduction threats towards them or their families. Sixty-five per cent had been subjected to sexist remarks, primarily by male colleagues in parliament.
14) By September 2020, 48 countries had integrated prevention and response to violence against women and girls into COVID-19 response plans, and 121 countries had adopted measures to strengthen services for women survivors of violence during the global crisis, but more efforts are urgently needed.The UN World’s Women 2020 compiled 100 data stories that provide a snapshot of the state of gender equality worldwide in six critical areas: population and families; health; education; economic empowerment and asset ownership; power and decision-making; and violence against women and the girl child as well as the impact of COVID-19.
Why educate a girl? View 10 reasons why and the inspiring Education for All founded and supported by the founders of Kasbah du Toubkal. An educated woman educates the next generation. Education is a human right enshrined in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it calls for free and compulsory elementary education. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, goes further to stipulate that countries shall make higher education accessible to all.
Going beyond the rhetoric, both the opportunity and the right to education are never equal, and girls and women are too often shortchanged in many parts of our world. Today, women still do not have the same opportunities to advance as men and this is unacceptable.
Women make up half the global population and we need both men and women empowered to tackle our most critical challenges and threats – from climate change and escalating conflicts, to economic crisis and lack of health care, countries the violate human rights and exploitation and violence against women.
The 2021 International Women’s Day theme is Choose to Challenge. A challenged world is an alert world and we can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.
Today and everyday, let us celebrate the women in our lives. Let us continue the clamour, the outcry and the fight for equal rights, and demand for the abuse and violence against women to stop. It must be NOW!