International Women's Day: Advocating for Women's Rights and Equality
Updated: Mar 8
International Women’s Day: Advocating for Women’s Rights and Equality By Debra DeLaet (Executive Director, Iowa United Nations Association)
International Women's Day (IWD) is a global day observed on March 8 each year. The history of IWD, created in the early 20th century as part of various women’s movements demanding political and economic rights, precedes the creation of the UN system. Historically, the IWD movement helped mobilize support for numerous transnational advocacy campaigns, including activism for women’s right to work and improved working conditions, the right to vote and hold public office, and to end discrimination against women globally. IWD also has been associated with international women's peace movements.
Since 1975, the United Nations has recognized International Women’s Days as one of its international days of observances. The UN relies on IWD to raise awareness about women’s achievements and equality, to educate the public about global issues affecting women’s equality and advancement, and to mobilize political will and resources to support initiatives for global gender equity. The international community observes IWD on a single day, but the initiative involves ongoing education and advocacy on women’s rights and gender equality throughout the year.
A great deal of progress has been made since IWD was created in the early 1900s. The women’s movements that established IWD were focused on securing basic economic and political equality, including the right to work and right to vote. Although these basic rights have been secured in many places, the evidence of global gender inequality indicates that much work remains to be done. UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 commits to achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls by 2030. Available evidence indicates that extensive global efforts will be required to make headway on the SDG 5 targets.
Violence and discrimination against women remain pervasive global problems and are entrenched in numerous laws, policies, and cultural norms in countries in every region of the world. The UN Foundation and the #EqualEverywhere campaign jointly produced a report that provides a snapshot of global gender inequality. The report identifies egregious examples of ongoing legal and social discrimination against women. 18 countries have laws on the books that require married women to obey their husbands. Women disproportionately contribute to unpaid care work in every country in the world. Discriminatory family laws provide inequitable rights to women in areas related to marriage, divorce, and custody. Almost 40% of countries legally allow marriage for girls under the age of eighteen. A child’s citizenship can only be determined by the fathers in 25 countries. Over 40 countries maintain discriminatory laws governing inheritance rights for daughters versus sons. Countries in every region of the world limit women and girls’ access to contraception and sexual and reproductive health care. Most girls in the world have not achieved gender parity in access to education. In the legal realm, women’s testimony does not carry the same legal weight as men’s in numerous countries. A wide range of discriminatory policies limit women’s economic opportunities, including financial restrictions limiting women’s access to loans, exclusions from employment in particular jobs, and the failure to provide equal pay for equal work. According to the World Health Organization approximately one-third of the world’s women have experienced or will experience gender-based violence within their lifetime, a problem exacerbated by the fact that a significant number of countries do not have laws addressing domestic violence. Even in countries with laws prohibiting violence against women, gender discrimination leads to uneven prosecution and impedes the effective enforcement of these laws by governments. Violence against transgender women is an especially acute problem. In general, people who are transgender experience higher rates of gender-based and all forms of violence, with trans women of color at greatest risk.
IWD provides us with an excellent opportunity to commit to working for women’s equality and gender equity. There are numerous actions we can take to advocate for women’s equality. You can expand your knowledge of gender equity by exploring the 2023 campaign theme, #EmbraceEquity.The United States still has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Urge your elected representatives to ratify CEDAW here. You also can urge your representatives to stop human trafficking, a threat that targets an estimated 40 million people, mostly women and girls, by completing this online petition. You also can join the UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence Against Women campaign. You also can join the #EqualEverywhere campaign to fight for full equality for girls and women across the globe. You can donate to female-focused charities.
However you choose to support the cause, thank you for your advocacy on behalf of women’s rights and equality on International Women’s Day and everyday.