When we look around us, there is a noticeable gap in the percentage of women “visibly” contributing to the progression of the economy and society that makes us question “where are the women?” Though the real question needs to be while there are so many women bucking social norms and overcoming gender barriers, sacrificing and struggling more than any other, what keeps them away from being seen, are they getting equal opportunities, equal pay, equal support, equal respect; are they considered equally human? Redressing women's exclusion, accepting the current injustices, and evaluating how we are addressing them can make this world better in a gender-neutral and collective way.
March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD), a global day of recognition celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, and raising awareness of the work left to be done. The day also marks a call to action to advance gender equality in every dimension of human life. Women’s day is a much-needed occasion to celebrate the progress made towards achieving gender equality and women's empowerment and also to critically reflect on those accomplishments and strive for a greater momentum towards gender equality worldwide.
International Women’s Day has been celebrated for over a century now. In the early 20th century, critical debate and great unrest were occurring amongst women. Women’s oppression and inequality compelled women to be more vocal and active in campaigning for change.
It was around 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding better pay and voting rights amongst other things. In 1910, a woman called Clara Zetkin, who was the leader of the 'Women’s office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day to press for women’s demands.
Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Gender equality matters because "inequality between men and women penalizes societies at all levels of development. The violence, injustice, and stereotypes suffered by too many women in their personal or professional lives undermine society as a whole and deprive of it considerable potential for creativity, strength, and confidence in the future.
We don’t have an equal world at the moment and women are angry and concerned about the future. It's an impatience that runs deep, and it has been brewing for years. Though we are radically impatient, we are not giving up and we are hopeful. - UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
Gender Inequality in Poverty
Despite many historical developments, women’s empowerment still has far to go globally. The majority of the world’s poor are women due to continuous gender inequalities occurring globally — an issue that has only worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic. In “2021, for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty, there will be 118 women, a gap that is expected to increase to 121 women per 100 men by 2030.” Furthermore, the pandemic has forced 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021; of those people, 47 million are women and girls.
Globally, women earn 24% less than men. In addition, 700 million more men than women engage in paid work, a statistic that directly correlates with the fact that worldwide, women are still expected to carry out the roles of childcare and housekeeping while men bring home the money. When women work outside the home, they have longer workdays. Over a lifetime, women, on average, will work for four more years than men.
We asked a selection of our expert craftswoman to tell us their story – what inspired each to take the journey that led them to where they are today. [traslated from hindi]
Life has never been easy for me. I have always seen my brothers being pampered by my parents, while I will be busy with chores. I clearly remember the day when I started working, I never got much support. I am happy that now I can get myself things that I wouldn't have dreamed of. I have my own phone and use Facebook. What makes me most passionate about my work is the impact it has on how people around me, my family, my neighbors, my in-laws, see me and respect me. I am a working woman, I earn my own money, I am independent - I am proud of myself.
I come to work here (at Mianzi) with my son and I am proud of it. I never thought that one day I will have my own job like the men, I will have my own salary. My son has supported me a lot in my journey. I pray all women to have sons like him who not only take care of their mother but let them live like me. I am the only woman in my family who is independent and earns on her own.
I have been weaving baskets (she weaves the beautiful stadium baskets at Mianzi) from Bamboo for more than twenty-five years. Up until a couple of years back, I will make one or two baskets a week. My husband will also weave with me. Our families have been doing the same for generations. The problem has been in selling those baskets. Even after giving so many hours to make just one basket, we would never get the desired price, if we somehow sell one. It was hard to sustain, especially with two kids. The fixed monthly wages have helped us a lot. I enjoy working with my husband and it's god’s blessing that I earn as much as him. The molds have helped me a lot too. Sometimes it's hard to believe how things turn out. I pray more women can earn and help their families.
I wanted to go to college but my parents told me that they would not pay for it. They wanted me to get married. Getting a job for myself was not easy, especially as it is a small village. I got training here and started working. I also joined a college. Now I am working while completing my BSc. Life has changed so much in these last few years. I will urge all girls out there to never settle, do not marry just because your parents want you to. Being independent and having your own life is the best thing you can do to yourself and it is the only way to get respect.
How does gender equality relate to sustainability?
Advancing gender equality in the context of the climate crisis and disaster risk reduction is one of the greatest global challenges of the 21st century. Women are increasingly being recognized as more vulnerable to climate change impacts than men, as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent on the natural resources that climate change threatens the most.
At the same time, women and girls are effective and powerful leaders and change-makers for climate adaptation and mitigation. They are involved in sustainability initiatives around the world, and their participation and leadership result in more effective climate action.
Continuing to examine the opportunities, as well as the constraints, to empower women and girls to have a voice and be equal players in decision-making related to climate change and sustainability is essential for sustainable development and greater gender equality. Without gender equality today, a sustainable future, and an equal future remains beyond our reach.
Global norms do not simply emerge and affect people, but are (and must be) constantly made and remade in the practices of every human, because this is occurring, the status of women as belonging in the private sphere is not popularly questioned, as it has become normalized. The only way for women to overcome this is for women to realize that many of the common issues faced by women must be addressed in terms of the global structures underlying them, for it is only when the flaws in the system are recognized that they can be changed. - Karen Brown Thompson
So make a difference, think globally, and act locally! Make everyday International Women's Day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe, and rewarding. Remember, women can change the world as we know it; here are the women - would you recognize them?