March approaches – and we couldn’t possibly be busier.
That’s because March is Women’s History Month. [Please tell me you knew this already!?]
Yes – an official month where we highlight, promote, and celebrate the contributions of women past and present. We should be celebrating each other’s achievements and contributions every day – but this month is special because March also brings International Women’s Day, a globally-recognized day not only to celebrate but more importantly to reaffirm our commitments to equality and solidify our strategies to achieve full human rights for all.
Here’s some worthwhile history:
International Women’s Day started in 1911, when women – and men – took to the streets to demand rights for women to work, to vote, and to hold public office. And here we are – 107 years later – still making very similar demands! Sigh…
Fast forward. Today, we know that the Global Gender Gap Report tells us that gender parity is over 200 years away. Frankly I’m not willing to wait that long!
International Women’s Day is on 8 March. This year, the theme is #PressforProgress. The fact is, we’re moving really slowly. And, in some instances, we’re not even moving in the right direction!
Ensuring gender parity will have positive impacts on all aspects of economic and political life: more equality results in higher GDP and more productivity, more women business leaders bring better performance, and more women political leaders bring more prosperity. Those are strong arguments. Which one will inspire us to take action? Productivity? Performance? Prosperity? Maybe the strongest argument of all is PRINCIPLE – because we know this is the right thing to do.
While equality in numbers is critical, the presence of women does not necessarily translate into power for women. We must change society, change attitudes, change ourselves – to create space for equality.
And, there’s a lot of global momentum – just look at #MeToo, #TimesUp and more – and a huge global need. No industry is immune to this – a quick examination of the humanitarian aid sector in recent weeks is case in point. I have a lot to say about that – but will save it for another time!
So, let’s get off our collective bottoms. And let’s not think that International Women’s Day belongs to one organization, one country, one context, or even one day. It belongs to all of us, everywhere.
We have to assume shared responsibility to ensure collective action.
All around the world, women and girls are still not able to fully participate in all aspects of social, economic, and political life. They have less choice and less voice – and we are all responsible for rectifying this imbalance. Gender equality is both a human rights principle and a precondition for a safe, just, sustainable future. But no country has achieved it. Iceland… almost!
In our world today, the majority of children who are out of school are girls. Child marriage remains prevalent. Women’s unemployment is higher than men’s. Women do the majority of unpaid work – and when they do work – they earn far less than men – in every occupation. In positions of power and decision-making, inequality is most visible because women are rendered virtually invisible. What bothers me most is gender-based violence. 1 in 3 women and girls worldwide will experience some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime. It’s the stuff that eats away at my insides, a lump in my stomach. But it’s also the fire in my belly – it’s the most important fight we have!
It goes without saying, but if we’re serious about gender equality and human rights, it’s probably not wise to restrict it to one day of the year. Yes, let’s use International Women’s Day to acknowledge our achievements, but also to recommit to the challenges we have ahead.
So, in March, we celebrate our foremothers. And most importantly, we renew our commitment to standing on the right side of history – the side of EQUALITY.