Author: Sharon Willis Brown-Acquah is communications team member at CDD-Ghana, a journalist and a human rights activist
For over a century, the world has earmarked 8th March as a day to champion the rights of women and make their demands known. It was sparked by unrest among women in 1908 during which time oppression and inequality had spurred. The following year, 1909, witnessed the first National Women’s Day in the United States on February 28.
During the second International Conference of working women in Copenhagen in 1910, an activist named Clara Zetkin, leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany set in motion the concept of extending the celebration of Women’s Day across the globe to continue pressing for the demands of women, thus birthing International Women’s Day(IWD).
The United Nations (UN) officially declared 8th March 1975 as a day to highlight the fact that securing peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms require the active unbiased participation, equality, and development of women in a safe space. Since then, every 8th March has been observed as International Women’s Day.
What have been the impact of the occasion and where are we heading to? Numerous international organizations, activists, and civil society organizations have made and continue to make strides to demand equality and end discrimination against women and call for unhindered access to their civil, political, and socio-cultural rights.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, countries began to enforce the rights of women to exercise their franchises. In 1893, New Zealand took the front seat by becoming the first country to allow women to participate in casting their votes nationally. Other countries followed which has now been captured in Article 7 of the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW,1981).
Today, Germany’s Angela Merkel, USA’s Kamala Harris, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Sylvie Kinigi of Burundi, and Sri Lanka’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike made it to the list of women who have held the most powerful positions of executive power in just 59 countries since 1960 with Honduras, Greece, Kosovo, Moldova, Nepal, Slovakia, and Barbabos developing rapidly with female presidents.
Confronting the darkness in the tunnel
Women are a force of nature. Nature preserves, protects and reproduces; however, millions have had to face the pain that comes with discrimination and unlawful termination of pregnant workers. For many women who choose to bear children, while pregnancy may come with some health, physical and psychological challenges, it can also birth multiple work-related concerns consequently costing them their jobs. This practice leaves a long-lasting negative impression on the career trajectory of women who choose to have children.
Men, on the other hand, have little to no worry about losing their jobs, status, or salaries but really, what is an equal world without the ultimate and unwavering support of the male gender during the early days of childbirth? Shouldn’t we take the issue of paternity leave more frontally?
According to a World Health Organization Report, worldwide caesarean section rates have risen from around 7% in 1990 to 21% and are projected to continue to increase. If this trend continues, by 2030, the highest rates are likely to be in Eastern Asia (63%), Latin America and the Caribbean (54%), Western Asia (50%), Northern Africa (48%) Southern Europe (47%) and Australia and New Zealand (45%).
Caesarean sections in Sub-Saharan Africa increased from 14 to 24% (Dikete et al., 2022). We do women a great disservice when we deny them ample time to recuperate after childbirth.
Globally, there has been a massive leap in girl-child education. On IWD, it is imperative to highlight the significant improvement in the educational outcomes of women and girls. A UNESCO report shows that over 180 million more girls have enrolled in primary and secondary education since 1995. The Covid-19 pandemic on the other hand exacerbated access to education in some regions across the globe. The flow of education was dependent on suitable learning environments, parental support, access to internet connectivity, and basic knowledge of digital skills.
However, there is a lingering doom that hovers over the education of females in the years to come if measures are not taken. One significant motto of the UN is to create a world where no one is left behind, but teenage girls in Afghanistan and elsewhere are being left out of achieving their dreams, realizing their full potentials, and contributing to global peace-making and solutions due to a recent ban placed on girls to prevent them from accessing secondary education.
Bold actions needed to end period poverty
Campaigners across the world have been advocating for the complete removal of taxes on sanitary pads to stop the surge in period poverty.
Women and girls in many rural communities face shame, humiliation, discrimination, and isolation during their time of the month mainly as a result of the inability to access basic menstrual products. The growing debate on the removal of taxes on products meant to boost the confidence of women who go through this natural process as against products meant to prevent STIs and pregnancies is ceaseless.
We must applaud some NGOs and philanthropists who have contributed their quota by making and distributing reusable and free sanitary products to underprivileged women, girls, and societies. While countries such as Malaysia, Lebanon, Tanzania, Ireland, Colombia, and Mexico have taken giant steps to completely remove taxes on sanitary products, other governments must be sensitized to create policies that ensure the accessibility and affordability of sanitary products for all.
Can we make gender-based violence a thing of the past?
We only shoot ourselves in the foot if we continue to commemorate this day without paying particular attention to women who endure all forms of abuse and violence in the name of protecting their dignity, children, marriage, status, employers, and partners. Most gender-based acts of violence occur as a result of inequities. The common types are physical, sexual and online abuse.
Further, one underestimated form of abuse, emotional abuse, as defined by the UN is “the act of undermining a person’s sense of self-worth through constant criticism; belittling one’s abilities; name-calling or other verbal abuse; damaging a partner’s relationship with the children, or not letting a partner see friends and family.” Although 158 countries have passed domestic violence laws, it does not automatically mean they are compliant with international standards.
According to findings in the R9 survey of Afrobarometer, CDD-Ghana’s national partner, citizens say that gender-based violence constitutes one of the most important women’s-rights issues that the government and society must address.
While most consider domestic violence a criminal matter and believe that the police must take gender-based violence cases seriously, a significant minority say it is likely that a woman will be criticized or harassed if she reports to the authorities.
The Ghana country office of the United Nations Populations Fund in collaboration with the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection has taken the fort as the lead agency in working to reduce gender-based violence in the country through one of its support programs, the Orange Support Center.
Bridge the gap with technology
The 2023 theme for the celebration of IWD; DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality goes a long way to bridge the STEM gap. Women have been making untold contributions to the digital world we live and thrive in. Despite the uncountable barriers such as mockery, online abuse, lesser allocated working hours, sexual harassment, and lack of confidence, women are still beating the odds to be at par with men in the technological space.
Did you know a woman named Hedy Lamarr, a self-taught inventor through her ‘secret communication system’ inspired the invention of Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth? How about Elizabeth Feinler, the ‘Mother of Internet’ who pioneered and managed first the ARPANET which later transitioned to a host-naming registry for the Internet and the top-level, domain-naming scheme of ‘.com, .edu, .gov, .mil, .org, and .net’, which are still in use today? Heard about Annie Easley, the NASA Rocket Scientist who beat gender and racial diversity at NASA when she laid the foundations for space shuttle launches in the future?
Our world is far more advanced to be battling with discrimination and stereotypes against women and girls when there are pressing issues that question the existence of humanity in the world.