A better world for women is a better world for everyone - Hindustan Times
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A better world for women is a better world for everyone

ByHindustan Times
Mar 08, 2023 09:24 AM IST

The article has been authored by Anita Anand, communications and development specialist and author of Beijing: UN Fourth World Conference on Women and co-author of Whose World is it Anyway? The UN, Civil Society and the Multilateral Future.

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a global day to celebrate the achievements of women in social, economic, cultural and political spheres of life, recognising that more action is needed to strengthen efforts for supporting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

International Women's Day: A better world for women is a better world for everyone(HT Photo) PREMIUM
International Women's Day: A better world for women is a better world for everyone(HT Photo)

While gender equality and empowerment are relatively recent terms, the struggle for women’s rights started a long time ago. As early as 1909 the Socialist Party of America held its first National Women’s Day in which thousands of women marched for their rights. Similar events followed across Europe. In the following decades women’s rights movements continued, with the notion of feminism gaining growth in the 1960s.

At the same time, the United Nations (UN), created after World War II, in its founding Charter in 1945, set out three objectives: To foster international peace and security, to promote social and economic progress and to define and protect the rights and freedom of every individual regardless of race, sex, language or religion. So, in a sense, women’s rights were included in the Charter. In 1946, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN established the Commission on Human rights, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, with a Subcommission on the Status of Women, which then became the Commission on the Status of women (CSW). In this, the UN recognised the importance of institutionalising a special group focusing on women.

From 1945-1971, The UN passed many resolutions to address discrimination against women and ensure their rights in different spheres. In 1972, the General Assembly designated 1975 as International Women’s Year with the themes of equality, development and peace. In the same year, the landmark first World Conference of International Women’s Year was held in Mexico City. To carry forward the resolutions emerging from the conference the UN declared the Decade for Women (1976-1985) and March 8 as the Global Day for Women.

Between 1975 and 1995, four global conferences on women were held with UN member nations participating, along with the presence of non-governmental organisation (NGO) representatives. The goal of the conferences was to build consensus on issues facing women in different circumstances and how these voices could reach policy makers at the national, regional and global level. Over these decades up to the present time, mechanisms have been put in place to create and implement policies and programmes to ensure women’s participation in economies.

Language and concepts have changed. From women’s issues (which are everyone’s issues really), to women’s advancement, to women’s empowerment (the creation of an environment where women and girls have choices and the means to implement them). From focusing on sex (which is biological) to gender (roles ascribed to boys and girls) to understand how attitudes of women and men are shaped and the importance of gender sensitisation across the board.

The challenge of converting language and concepts to practice has been envisaged in and by the institutions and formal and informal networks created by the UN system, NGOs, researchers, activists, working together and separately. They have created blueprints, designed gender sensitive budgets, called for and raised finances. These have resulted in major improvements in the lives of girls and women in education, health and livelihoods. There are more women in political and economic institutions than ever and there are increasing opportunities for women in fields they had been denied entry.

At the same time there are girls and women who have little or no access to education, health services and livelihoods. There is child marriage, sexual abuse, harassment, rape and assault, or what is called gender-based violence. In globally fragile environments, gains made can be eroded, sometimes overnight.

“Events in 2021 and in the early months of 2022 have conspired to crush the rights and dignity of millions of women and girls. The world’s crises do not impact equally, let alone fairly. The disproportionate impacts on women’s and girls’ rights are well-documented yet still neglected, when not ignored outright. But the facts are clear. The Covid-19 pandemic, the overwhelming rollback on women’s rights in Afghanistan, the widespread sexual violence characterizing the conflict in Ethiopia, attacks on abortion access in the US and Turkey’s withdrawal from the landmark Istanbul Convention on Gender Based Violence: each is a grave erosion of rights in its own terms but taken together? We must stand up to and stare down this global assault on women’s and girls’ dignity,” says Agnès Callamard, Secretary General, Amnesty International, in its 2023 International Women’s Day press release.

Amnesty’s report also points to the efforts of women’s rights defenders resulting in key victories for abortion rights in Colombia, Mexico and San Marino and for human rights in Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Russia, USA and Afghanistan.

International Women’s Day is a significant day and much needed. It is a day for reflection, of how far women have come and how far they must go. It’s a day to celebrate the advances made, recognising the challenging and deliberate work by the UN, governments, NGOs, activists, researchers and communities, all over the world. The day is a reminder of how fragile the hard-fought gains are and how quickly they can be reversed.

The process of change is slow and challenging. Attitudes towards girls and women are deeply entrenched in societies and will take generations to change. Each day brings more clarity about what is needed to make the world a better place for girls and women. And in this, a better world for boys and men.

The article has been authored by Anita Anand, communications and development specialist and author of Beijing: UN Fourth World Conference on Women and co-author of Whose World is it Anyway? The UN, Civil Society and the Multilateral Future.

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