International Women’s Day: Recommit to fighting for gender equality

Date: 07 March 2024

By Soheila Hayek

World YMCA President

How lovely it would be for women to celebrate 8 March as a memorial to overcoming the dark days. The days when they were discriminated against, abused, underpaid and violated only because they were women.

Alas, we are still fighting the same battles.

The campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2024 is #InspireInclusion. Isn’t it strange that in 2024, we still must create slogans to encourage people to “include” women in society, at the workplace, in school and in political life? And lest you are tempted to conclude that men alone are the cause of this “exclusion”, according to the World Bank, 95 per cent of the people in 80 per cent of the world’s countries hold at least one bias against gender equality!

The United Nations calls gender equity the “unfinished business of our time”. They write: “Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development.”

Child marriage – still practised worldwide

Women give life, bring love into our lives and are the most critical agents in peacebuilding at all levels of society. Yet globally, girls are more likely to drop out of school to help their mothers with family chores. They are more likely to be given in marriage as a child, which limits their education and exposes them to abuse and exploitation.

Today in Yemen, nearly two-thirds of girls are married before age 18. And this is occurring everywhere. Between 2000 and 2018, more than 300,000 children, mainly girls, were married in the United States. Among the 50 states, only 10 have 18 as the legal age of consent for marriage. Five states have no age of consent for marriage, and the rest fall between 15, 16 and 17 years of age. According to the United Nations, every minute, 28 girls under the age of 18 are married.

"When it comes to violence against women, there are few practices as harmful, or as widespread, as early marriage."

Desmond Tutu

Voting rights

Although many Nordic countries had bestowed the right to vote to women landowners in local elections in the 1700s, the first country in the world to grant national voting rights to women was New Zealand in 1893. That was followed by Australia in 1902 and the Grand Dutchy of Finland in 1906. The relentless advocacy of their women led to the last country, Saudi Arabia, finally granting women the right to vote in 2015

Yet, today, apart from the four Nordic countries of Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweeden and the Pacific nation of New Zealand – where gender parity, as defined by equal participation in educational, health, economic, and political spheres, is almost complete – the rest of the world needs 134 years to close the gender gap!

"As long as women are bound by poverty and as long as they are looked down upon, human rights will lack substance." "As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow."

Nelson Mandela

Gender equality in fostering peace

In light of the ongoing violence in Gaza, it’s crucial to recognise the pivotal role that gender equality plays in fostering peace and prosperity worldwide. Gender equality is not just a moral imperative; it is the best indicator for ensuring peace, over and above other parameters such as the country’s level of democracy, wealth, or religious or ethnic composition.

On this International Women’s Day 2024, let us recommit ourselves to the fight for gender equality. Let us challenge gender norms, promote inclusion, and empower women to reach their full potential. Together, we can create a world where every woman and girl has the opportunity to thrive and live in harmony with self and her community in a just and inclusive world,

Let us inspire inclusion, celebrate diversity, and work towards a brighter, more equitable future for all.

If you are interested in helping, here are 10 ways from Believe.Earth to promote gender equality daily.

To all women, if we ever get discouraged by the slow pace of progress towards equity, let us keep this Japanese proverb in mind: “Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid of standing still.”

Mahatma Gandhi famously saw women not as objects of reform and humanitarianism, recipients of more humane treatment by enlightened men, but as subjects who, if they chose, would become arbiters of their own destinies.

Let us choose to become arbiters of our own destinies. Let us be brave. Let us stand for inclusion.

"Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women".

Maya Angelou