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RASHMI OBEROI | 8 MARCH, 2018

Why International Women’s Day Still Holds Great Significance

This article is part of The Citizen’s International Women’s Day special features.


I agree much progress has been made to protect and promote women’s rights in recent times. However, nowhere in the world can women claim to have all the same rights and opportunities as men. The majority of the world's 1.3 billion absolute poor are women. On an average, women receive between 30 and 40 percent less pay than men earn for the same work. Women also continue to be victims of violence, with rape and domestic violence listed as significant causes of disability and death among women worldwide.

Despite all pessimism, International Women’s Day is a special day dedicated only to women and their role in our lives. The true essence of the day lies in identifying the rights and power of women and giving them a stature that they deserve. It is also about celebrating the inspiring and courageous work women around the world are doing to secure women’s rights and shape more tolerant and equitable societies. We also need to reflect on the work that remains and remember the many women whose voices go unheard and who continue to be excluded from realizing their full potential. Whether people like it or not, March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

The first International Women’s Day occurred on March 19 in 1911. The inaugural event, which included rallies and organized meetings, was a big success in countries such as Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. The March 19 date was chosen because it commemorated the day that the Prussian king promised to introduce votes for women in 1848. The promise gave hope for equality but it was a promise that he failed to keep. The International Women’s Day date was moved to March 8 in 1913.

The UN drew global attention to women's concerns in 1975 by calling for an International Women's Year. It also convened the first conference on women in Mexico City that year. The UN General Assembly then invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for Women's Rights and International Peace in 1977. The day aimed to help nations worldwide eliminate discrimination against women. It also focused on helping women gain full and equal participation in global development.

“The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights," says world-renowned feminist, journalist and social and political activist Gloria Steinem. Thus International Women's Day is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action and has been occurring for well over a century - and continues to grow from strength to strength.

The world has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women's and society's thoughts about women's equality and emancipation. We must therefore honour the women who have paved the path towards our progress and struggled to take ‘womanhood’ to a level where it is now. Unfortunately, at the same time, the day is also a reminder of the discrimination and inequality that still continues to plague our society and the need for a paradigm change.

Several resolutions to protect women’s rights have also been passed globally, which has opened up broader avenues for the growth and development of women in our society. Women’s Day not only celebrates the role of women as a breadwinner but also of a daughter, a wife, a mother, a sister and a homemaker. The day honours the voices that go unheard, the rights that are dominated and the tears that go unnoticed.

I personally feel this is also a day to connect with one another physically, virtually and spiritually – and to give thanks for the generations of amazing women who have come before us, and the generations of phenomenal women still to come! In my opinion, we celebrate International Women’s Day each year because it is an opportunity to take stock of the status of women, gender equality, but also to look beyond our borders and deepen our thinking about the future progress. Women have not always shared the same rights, and still do not in many respects.

International Women’s Day is a tribute to all the women who have fought across time and space against all forms of discrimination, exclusion, marginalization, violence and lack of equal opportunities for women. It is also an opportunity to realize that in most countries of the world the problem is still relevant. For me it is simple: to celebrate women is to celebrate life.

So let us all make a difference, in our own small ways. Let us do our bit to ensure that the future for our girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding. They deserve it!

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