International Women’s Day: old wounds, new hopes

As the world marks a day in honour of women, the journey to gender equality is far from over. But amid the challenges lies an amazing opportunity.

Today is International Women's Day. In many ways, it is a day for celebration. When the first Women's Day was held in 1911, women in Britain and the US were unable to vote, earn university degrees or fulfil their potential at work.

Now, the days of male domination in the West are over. In theory, if not in practice, we now live in a society of equal rights, regardless of gender.

But that doesn't mean that the struggle for women's rights is finished. In Western countries, huge problems still remain. Domestic violence against women still too often goes unpunished. Young women and girls are still being trafficked into the country to live in near slavery. Conviction rates for sex crimes remain worryingly low.

And at the highest levels of business and politics, women are still a small minority. Only 12% of the UK's boardroom seats in companies are occupied by women. As an article in the Observer this week pointed out, there are fewer female MPs in Britain than there are MPs called 'Dave' or 'Nick.'

Unsurprisingly, the picture only gets worse as you look further afield. Women suffer disproportionately from wars and famines. Two thirds of the world's illiterate people are women. Women are also a majority of the world's poorest. More women than men suffer from HIV, although it is men who are most responsible for spreading the virus.

And women around the world still experience terrible sexual violence and discrimination. In Saudi Arabia, it is illegal for a woman to drive a car, or go out in public unaccompanied. In Iran, appearing without a headscarf can get you arrested by the religious police. In Afghanistan, women are killed or beaten for refusing to submit to forced marriages, often when very young.

Some people think the fight for women's rights is over. It isn't – not by a long way.

World changers
But it's not all doom and gloom either. Women's rights are a problem, but also an opportunity. By empowering women you can make a huge difference to the broader picture.

With the right tools, and the right protection, women can lead their communities out of poverty. In Africa, one charity is teaching women to install solar panels. Men, they say, are 'untrainable,' but mothers and grandmothers working together have brought electricity to hundreds of rural villages.

And that's just the beginning. Women can build communities, run better businesses, prevent wars and safeguard future generations. Help them, and you help change the world.

You Decide

  1. Are men and women equal in Britain today? Have you ever seen discrimination in action?
  2. Why have so many societies around the world evolved with men firmly in the driving seat?

Activities

  1. Have you seen women struggle against discrimination? Have you struggled yourself? Think of a relevant story and present it to your class.
  2. Prepare a speech to the UN, arguing that funding women's charities is a good investment.

Some People Say...

“Equality for women is the most important challenge of our generation.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why should we help women more than men?
Women are often poorer and living in harder circumstances. Gender discrimination in some societies can make it very hard for women to survive without a man.
But that's not all?
No. Many charities have found that helping women actually produces better results for society as a whole.
Why's that?
Women in poor societies are often tied to their families, looking after children and elderly relatives. This responsibility can mean that women have more success with cooperative enterprises, and spend money more wisely than men, who only have to look out for themselves.
Anything else?
Well, women who are better educated have more control of their lives, which means later marriages and fewer children. Fewer children means fewer families struggling in poverty.

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