F is for Feminism: The UN and International Women’s Day

International Women's Day
Malaysian women peacekeepers of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) at a medal ceremony in Kawkaba, south Lebanon. UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

By Kate Koett

While the United Nations first celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) in 1975 as part of International Women’s Year, women have been marching, protesting and advocating for equality and equity since the early 1900s. Through industrialization and the world wars, women from around the globe have been joining forces to strengthen their collective voice. In 1977, the United Nations formally recognized this when the General Assembly created the United Nations Day of Women’s Rights and International Peace. This resolution encouraged Member States to observe this day in accordance with their own historical and national traditions. Today, the United Nations participates with organizations around the world in recognizing March 8th as IWD.

The theme of IWD 2017 is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030.” By incorporating Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda, the international community can make progress on gender violence, the pay gap and equal education. Recognizing the work (paid and unpaid) women around the world already do, is a central part of this year’s theme, as is the push to involve women more equitably in the formal workforce. Women’s workforce participation lags far behind that of men’s, and women’s unpaid labor, such as childcare, elder-care, housekeeping, and water acquisition is undervalued. The United Nations estimates that girls spend more than twice as much time on household tasks than do boys. When women’s work is recognized and compensated and when women have equal autonomy in economic decisions, everyone benefits

A rising youth interest in feminism—that is, the equality of men and women, as well as the freedom for women to make their own choices about their bodies, their careers and their futures—has led to a noticeable shift in both women’s and society’s view on equality and empowerment. Because of this, some believe that women have gained true equality; however, the unfortunate truth is that women in both developed and developing countries still fall behind their male counterparts. Worldwide, women represent only about 20 percent of parliamentarians (in the U.S., it is less than 20%), and women hold less than 5 percent of CEO positions in S&P 500 companies. Globally, women’s education and health, is worse than that of men, and women are more often the victims of violence and trafficking than are men. Women are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than war, malaria, car accidents or cancer. 

At the same time, International Women’s Day celebrates significant progress in many areas of human development and the drive toward equality. Women today are educated in much higher numbers than in the recent past. Health outcomes improve when women are given access to quality healthcare. Political participation has more than doubled since the 1950s.

As interest in and passion about women’s rights increases, we must also recognize it is important to realize the intersectionality of issues facing all women: ableism, racism, transphobia and homophobia, to name a few, all negatively impact women’s equality and equity. Advocates and allies must acknowledge and use the privilege they have. To put it plainly: just because women have the right to vote in the United States but Saudi women did not have this right until 2015 does not mean that the United States has achieved gender equality. We have made progress, but there is still work to do.


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