Today marks the 101st anniversary of International Women’s Day. Although the status of women worldwide may look significantly different today than it did in the early 1900s when the holiday was first established, now is an opportune time to reflect not only on the great strides that have been made towards female empowerment in the last century, but also on all the work that remains to be done.
Here are a few poignant examples of the pervasiveness of women’s marginalization and lack of equality around the world to serve as reminders for why everyone, both men and women, should see female empowerment and gender equality as an utmost global priority:
(1) Violence Against Women is Rife Worldwide – The pervasiveness of violence against women is best illustrated by the simple fact that today, one in three women will be the victim of violence. That’s over 1 billion individuals. While innovative initiatives like the V-Day Campaign are committed to leading the charge against this, given the scale of the problem, it goes without saying that existing efforts and global awareness need to be increased exponentially in order to effectively begin chipping away at this pervasive injustice.
(2) Women Are Under-Represented in Politics – Comprising over half the world’s population, women occupy less than 20% of parliamentary seats worldwide. In the United States, women make up 17% of Congress (a decline in recent years). In Egypt, although women fully participate side-by-side with men during every phase of the revolution, there are only nine women in Egypt’s new parliament out of more than 500 seats. Without sufficient representation in government, societies will continue to undervalue and ignore the challenges uniquely or disproportionately faced by their female populations.
(3) Women Are Disproportionately Affected by Conflict – Nearly 80% of the world's 27 million refugees who are displaced by conflict are women and children. Furthermore, the systematic rape of women historically has and continues to be a tactic frequently deployed during war, resulting in the consistent degradation of women living through conflict.
(4) Women Are More Likely to Suffer from Poverty and Lack of Education – Estimates state that 70% of the world’s poor are women, and while some debate may exist surrounding how this statistic was developed, it is well known that women consistently are underpaid for performing the same work as men in several countries. The poverty gap between men and women in the U.S. is the highest of any Western country. What’s more, nearly two-thirds of the world’s billion illiterate adults are female.
(5) Double Standards Exist on How Our Societies Perceive, Value, and Judge Men and Women – And finally, the recent political hullaballoo surrounding the issue of healthcare coverage for contraception – including the absence of a single woman on the panel of a Congressional hearing to contraception coverage, and Rush Limbaugh’s slander of Sandra Fluke, and the support he has received – reminds us that much progress remains to be made for changing the way our own society perceives women. Regardless of one’s opinion on the issue itself, the fact that his and many similarly derogatory remarks have been seen as acceptable to a significant degree should be cause enough for alarm and serious reflection on the way our society today perceives and values women.
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The diverse social, political, and economic manifestations that discrimination against women takes in each and every country in the world are too numerous to comprehensively address in this list.
But one thing is clear: taking stock of the status of women worldwide today illustrates how much work is needed to attain their empowerment, not only abroad but also in our own backyard. So this year on International Women’s Day, isn’t it about time we all make an effort towards helping address these innumerable injustices?
Photo Credit: DR EG