Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 342, 11 March 2021

International Women’s Day: Women across the world #ChooseToChallenge
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news
On 8 March, the world commemorated International Women’s Day, celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women while calling for action for accelerating gender parity. The campaign theme for International Women's Day 2021 was ‘Choose To Challenge.’ The theme explains a challenging world as an alert world, as a society one can choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality as well as choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Thus, collectively helping to create an inclusive world. The theme highlights that from challenge comes change, thereby urging society to #ChooseToChallenge.

The United Nations Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, marking the day, said, “We need women’s representation that reflects all women and girls in all their diversity and abilities and across all cultural, social, economic and political situations. This is the only way we will get real societal change that incorporates women in decision-making as equals and benefits us all.”

Issues at large
First, different regions call on different demands. From Mexico to Japan demonstrations and events were staged to mark the day. Across Latin America, women rallied for an end to violence against women, femicide and greater rights for women. Across Europe, women demonstrated under the motto: ‘In the face of social emergency, feminism is essential,’ and voiced concerns over domestic violence. In South Asia, women marched demanding an end to patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and gender-based violence. Across East Asia, women marched in defiance of power-grabbing generals and patriarchal governments and called for gender equality, justice and improved welfare for women.

Second, the struggle against patriarchy continues. Although women have come a long way breaking past the glass ceiling and other social barriers, patriarchy and its various strains continue to remain a challenge. An indicator of this is the representation of women in leadership roles. According to the United Nations, only three countries in the world have 50 per cent or more women in parliament. Women are Heads of State in only 22 nations. Globally 119 countries have never had a woman leader as a Head of State. The UN adds that at the current rate of progress, gender parity will not be reached in parliaments before 2063 and gender parity for Heads of State will not happen till the year 2150.

Third, the surge in violence against women. According to the World Health Organisation, globally one in three women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, mostly by an intimate partner, a stark reminder of the scale of gender inequality and discrimination against women. In 2019, according to the UN Women, 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner. Emerging data show that violence against women and girls has intensified since the outbreak of COVID-19. Violence against women and girls is pervasive but at the same time widely under-reported. Less than 40 per cent of women who experience violence report these crimes or seek help of any sort.

Fourth, the disproportion between awareness and effect. Although there has been a rise of awareness concerning women’s rights, the disproportion between the letter and the spirit remains. Moving from awareness to action continues to be a challenging task, with multiple barriers from societal restrictions to institutional bias restricting the progress. 

In perspective
As the world celebrated International Women’s Day, it is important to reflect on the numerous achievements of women and the progress made thus far. However, the fight is not over yet; taking a cue from the generations that have passed, the present generation must begin to sensitise the importance of women’s right and help create an environment where women can thrive rather than struggle.

Society and governments need to prioritize women’s right by prevention and redress issues such as violence, discrimination and hate against women and girls. Finally, tearing down the patriarchy, as pessimist as it sounds, is next to impossible. However, what women can do is unite and lift each other when most things standing in front of them are set to bring them down.

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