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Friday, November 27, 2020

International Women’s Day: Closing gender gaps benefits countries as a whole, not just women and girls

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Since 1913, March 8 has been a designated day to celebrate and show solidarity for efforts to advance the rights of women around the world. For International Women’s Day this year, the celebration will highlight the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic roadmap signed by 189 governments 20 years ago that sets the agenda for realising women’s rights. More than 17,000 delegates and 30,000 activists pictured a world where women and girls had equal rights, freedom and opportunity in every sphere of life.

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While much progress has been made in the past two decades, no country can claim to have achieved equality between men and women. Many serious gaps remain. It is, therefore, time for the world to come together again to complete this journey. 

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is the clarion call of UN Women’s Beijing+20 campaign “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!”  This is to renew the commitment, strengthened action and increased resources to realise gender equality, women’s empowerment and human rights. 

The Beijing Declaration laid out actions to address 12 critical areas of concern for women and girls across the globe. Governments, the private sector and other partners were urged to reduce women and girls’ poverty, ensure their right to access education and training safeguard their health – including their sexual and reproductive health, protect women and girls from violence and discrimination, to ensure that technological advances benefit all.  The campaign calls upon leaders and ordinary people alike to recommit and act to turn the vision of the Beijing platform into reality. Unfortunately, however, many women face tremendous challenges that prevent them from achieving their full potential.

Indeed, empowering women empowers humanity and countries with higher levels of gender equality have higher economic growth. Companies with more women on their boards have higher returns to shareholders. Parliaments with more women consider a broader range of issues and adopt more legislation on health, education, anti-discrimination, and child support. Peace 

Across the world’s economies, women face all kinds of barriers to their empowerment. Empowering women is not just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. Women are an extremely powerful resource for global entrepreneurship and economic development, one that is not currently tapped to its potential. Research has shown that where women are economically empowered, communities and nations thrive.

Even though women have made real gains, we are constantly reminded how far we have to go to realise equality between men and women. 

World leaders recognised the pervasiveness of discrimination and violence against women and girls when they signed onto the visionary Millennium Declaration in 2000. Amongst the eight Millennium Development Goals, they included a goal to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment tracked progress on school enrolment, women’s share of paid work, and women’s participation in parliament. It triggered global attention and action. It served to hold governments accountable, mobilise much-needed resources, and stimulate new laws, policies, programmes and data. Also missing are other fundamental issues, such as women’s right to own property and the unequal division of household and care responsibilities.

Equality is a driving force for positive social change. It encompasses the principles of inclusion, participation, access, protection, and choice – the most vital tenets of a developed democracy. When pursued in tandem with fundamental human rights, gender equality can become a source of empowerment for society’s most marginalised individuals. 

Firstly, women and men need equal opportunities, resources and responsibilities to realise equality. Equal access to land and credit, natural resources, education, health services including sexual and reproductive health, decent work and equal pay needs to be addressed with renewed urgency. Policies, such as child care and parental leave, are needed to relieve working women’s double duty so women and men can enjoy equality at work and at home.

Secondly women’s voices must be heard. It is time for women to participate equally in decision making in the household, the private sector and institutions of governance. And this can be strong global goal that can push our societies to the tipping point of rejecting violence and discrimination against women and girls and unleash the potential of half the population for a more peaceful, just and prosperous world. I applaud the women who dare to tell the world that it’s not doing enough. That it can do better for the world’s billions of women and girls. That a frank and honest conversation about sexual and reproductive health is not something that can be ignored just because it’s difficult to talk about

More broadly, educating girls is a key element of a broader effort to engage women in civil and economic life globally. Beyond gaps in educational attainment, there are equally disheartening gaps in access to property rights, legal system access, etc. These in turn can lead to gender-based violence, child marriage and more public health issues. Education of girls is a key means of reversing this dynamic. As you’d expect, there are multigenerational benefits, too. For example, educated women educate their children at a higher rate.

While there has been real progress in parts of the world in closing the gender gap, there is also a pattern of two steps forward, one step back.  Women are particularly likely to suffer disproportionate losses in economic status in the aftermath of war or conflict. 

As the world commemorated International Women’s Day (IWD) on Sunday March 8, I salute and honour all Gambian women for doing their part in different quarters for the advancement of the country. I want us to reflect on the progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination.  And only by acting together can we create more equal and peaceful societies. Let us all, on each International Women’s Day, resolve to make a difference.

At this point, I would like to say a big thank you to the women’s rights activists who work round the clock to defend and promote the rights of women, and to protect them from the very many forms of violations of their rights; and discrimination. Thank you for playing an extraordinary role in the history of your country and community.

 

About International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day first emerged from the activities of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe. Since those early years, International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.

The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March during International Women’s Year 1975. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.

 

 

Binta Bah is a legal affairs correspondent at The Standard newspaper

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