Afghanistan school girls - photo by Natacha Pisarenko/AP
Since the first International Women's Day in 1900 Women's rights have come a long way in securing votes for women, opening up access to male-only professions, and criminalising domestic violence and rape in the UK. The world is unquestionably better for many women than it was a century ago, but there are still miles left to go. The worldwide recognition that women's rights are human rights is still missing. Women are still subjected to violence and oppression, and many are denied the most basic of rights around the world.Women make up less than one in five of the world's parliamentarians in the twenty-first century. Education can help change all this.
International Women's Day offers a chance to make a commitment to educate girls such as the ones in the photo in a school in Kabul.
In the Middle East women's rights are still neglected, in spite of great changes that have taken place through the Arab spring. In Saudi Arabia women are not permitted to drive, and if they are unmarried they must remain under male guardianship, diminishing their status to that of a child.
The terrible events unfolding in Syria remind us that we must stand in solidarity with women caught up in the horror of the conflict. Not only are brave women like Marie Colvin losing their lives to shine a light on the unfolding conflict, but Syrian women are at the frontline of a conflict that is tearing the country apart.
And out of the headlines, rape and sexual violence continue to scar women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – one in 10 of whom have been raped, many more than once. Around the world, women are paying the price of war; they work tirelessly for peace, yet they are often not invited to the negotiating table during the peace process.
In fact, less than 20% of the world's parliamentarians are women. Less than 10% of countries have a female head of state, and less than 3% of signatories to peace agreements are women. Every minute, a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth and another 20-30 women suffer serious injury or disability. Women face a barrage of difficulties, just because of their sex.
Education can play a pivotal role in empowering women to fight this glaring injustice. Study after study has shown that educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty and social prejudice. Yet girls' education is still not valued as highly as boys', despite evidence of the huge benefits it brings to individuals and to communities.
The head of the UN Development Programme calls women's education has a "multiplier effect". Educating women improves their rights in all areas, including property and work. Financial independence, born out of better education, brings prosperity to local communities. Education improves health. Girls with post-primary education are five times more likely to be knowledgeable about HIV and Aids. Figures consistently show that mothers who have been educated are more likely to give birth in health facilities.
Despite all these benefits, 30 million more girls than boys are out of school. The UK government uses aid to promote low-fee providers, but evidence shows that very low income families often have to choose whose fees to pay, and boys regularly push girls out. Removing school fees altogether and providing financial incentives for girls to attend schools is what works – as Brazil has shown through its Bolsa Familia scheme – and that should be prioritised instead.
While the Department for International Development's focus on getting girls into school is commendable, its Girls Education Challenge Fund must complement and support the domestic government's own plans, instead of operating as a parallel, separate fund. DfID should always seek to help developing countries build their own universal school systems.
Education is a basic human right, and denying it to girls and women is unacceptable. Empowering women and achieving gender equality is a slow process which depends on shifting attitudes, traditions and practices. We must commit to a long-term plan.
The first recognized International Women's Day was held in Austria, Denmark Germany, and Switzerland in March 1911. One hundred years of International Women's Day brought so much, but as the UK government's spending cuts impact so negatively on women that leading equality charities have declared them illegal, we know how far we still have to go.
Ask ourselves how does United States, the land of the free and the opportunities, compare and celebrate International Women's Day?
International Women's Day is planned to be celebrated nationwide although Canada, herself, doesn't do so well coming at 40th in the world for women political representatives, with one seat below little Luxembourg, with 76 of 308 Canadian House of Commons seats going to women. Still we stand better than Britain at 54, tied with Malawi, and far better than the U.S. which stands at number 78, tied with Turkmenistan and far below many nations it professes to despise.
Today, Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for Status of Women announced that Canada will celebrate the first International Day of the Girl on October 11, 2012 following its recent designation by the United Nations.
For more information on education, birth rates, health, and abortion issues among nations, please refer to the article published in the Toronto Star.
Most of this piece is summarized from the above sources.
Füsun Atalay ~ Copyright © Will of my Own - 2012