International Women’s Day — Shame On Us

International Women’s Day falls on the 8th of March each year and this year, the theme is “inspire inclusion”.

6 mins read
Group of Muslim women [Photo: Mehdi Sepehri/Unsplash ]

“O woman! in our hours of ease,

Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,

And variable as the shade

By the light quivering aspen made,

When pain and anguish wring the brow,

A ministering angel thou!”

“ Woman” by Walter Scott.

It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said : “ God created woman.  And boredom did indeed cease from that moment”. Nietzsche is also reported to have said : “ Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.”

International Women’s Day falls on the 8th of March each year and this year, the theme is “inspire inclusion”.  This seems to accept the fact that women are not included, period.  The United Nations  is celebrating the day under the theme Invest in women: Accelerate progress. The UN website goes on to say: “The world is facing many crises, ranging from geopolitical conflicts to soaring poverty levels and the escalating impacts of climate change. These challenges can only be addressed by solutions that empower women. By investing in women, we can spark change and speed the transition towards a healthier, safer, and more equal world for all”.  The words  “invest” “empower” “transition” “equal world” seemingly comport with “inspire inclusion” and suggest that women have been grossly left out of the equation of equal human co-existence.

Inequality

There seems to be cogent evidence in the real world that the above position of the United Nations is justified. For instance, globally, women consistently earn less than men, highlighting a significant gender pay gap. Research from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 reveals this disparity to be around 16%. In practical terms, this translates to women earning approximately 84 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. Furthermore, women remain notably underrepresented in leadership roles across diverse industries. Catalyst, an organization dedicated to advancing women in business, reported that in 2019, women occupied just 29% of senior management positions worldwide. This lack of representation hampers the progression of gender equality in professional spheres. Although strides have been made in improving educational opportunities for girls globally, disparities persist. UNESCO estimates that a staggering 132 million girls are currently not enrolled in school, with girls more likely than boys to miss out on education altogether. This imbalance undermines efforts to achieve educational equity. Tragically, gender-based violence continues to plague women and girls worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, one in three women has experienced physical or sexual violence, often perpetrated by an intimate partner. This pervasive issue perpetuates cycles of fear and inequality, hindering women’s ability to thrive.

Access to essential healthcare services remains unequal for women, particularly concerning reproductive health. UNICEF reports that preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth claim the lives of approximately 830 women every day, with disparities glaringly evident between developed and developing nations. Such discrepancies underscore the urgent need for improved healthcare access and support for women globally. Additionally, women shoulder the majority of unpaid care work, including caregiving, household chores, and childcare. This unpaid labor not only restricts women’s opportunities for education and employment but also perpetuates economic disparities between genders. Legal and policy barriers further impede women’s rights and opportunities in many countries. Discriminatory laws, such as those limiting property ownership and inheritance rights, perpetuate gender inequality and hinder women’s socio-economic advancement.

Moreover, women face disparities in access to and usage of digital technologies, exacerbating existing inequalities. The International Telecommunication Union highlights a widening global internet user gender gap, particularly pronounced in developing nations. This digital gender gap limits women’s ability to access information, education, and economic opportunities available online.

These sobering statistics underscore the critical need for concerted efforts to empower women and advance gender equality at all levels of society. Empowering women not only benefits them individually but also fosters social and economic development on a global scale. Addressing these disparities requires multifaceted approaches encompassing policy reforms, cultural shifts, and investment in women’s education and economic empowerment.

Discrimination and Abuse

Throughout history, women have confronted various forms of discrimination within the workplace, confronting obstacles such as wage disparities, restricted avenues for career advancement, and instances of harassment. The emergence of movements like #MeToo has drawn attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault experienced by women across industries, from entertainment and media to politics. In the realm of politics, women have long encountered challenges in securing adequate representation in leadership roles. Despite strides towards gender equality, women continue to encounter barriers to entry into political spheres, with biases in candidate selection processes and cultural norms often hindering their participation. As of recent years, women hold a disproportionately low percentage of parliamentary seats worldwide, reflecting ongoing disparities in political representation.

Women’s reproductive rights have been a contentious issue, with policies and laws frequently encroaching upon their autonomy. Restrictions on access to contraception and abortion, coupled with inadequate healthcare services, disproportionately impact women’s reproductive health and decision-making processes, constraining their agency in matters concerning their bodies and futures. Gender-based violence remains a pervasive global issue, with women and girls disproportionately affected by various forms of abuse, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. In conflict zones, women often endure sexual violence as a weapon of war, further exacerbating their vulnerability and suffering.

Despite advancements in education, girls continue to face barriers to learning in many parts of the world. Factors such as poverty, cultural norms, and inadequate infrastructure contribute to disparities in educational access and attainment between genders, perpetuating cycles of inequality and limiting opportunities for empowerment.

In many societies, discriminatory laws and cultural practices restrict women’s rights to inheritance and property ownership, leaving them economically disadvantaged and dependent. Access to essential healthcare services, particularly reproductive healthcare, is often impeded by lack of education, financial resources, and cultural stigmas, resulting in adverse health outcomes for women.

Furthermore, media representations often reinforce gender norms, portraying women in stereotypical and objectifying ways that limit opportunities for authentic representation and empowerment. These examples underscore the multifaceted nature of discrimination and marginalization experienced by women, emphasizing the ongoing need for concerted efforts to promote gender equality and address systemic injustices on a global scale.

My Take

To add insult to injury, in recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the intersection between gender dynamics and climate change, shedding light on how environmental crises disproportionately affect women. Among the various consequences of climate change, the emergence of climate refugees has become increasingly prominent, with women comprising a significant portion of those displaced by environmental disasters. Moreover, women often face heightened vulnerability during periods of conflict, encountering increased risks of violence and displacement. Additionally, the specter of famine looms large in regions devastated by climate-related disruptions, worsening the already dire situation for women who bear the brunt of food insecurity and malnutrition.

The statistics and experiences of women as climate refugees, victims of conflict, and casualties of famine, emphasizes the urgent need for gender-sensitive responses to these interconnected crises. The impact of climate change is forcing an escalating number of people from their homes, with women disproportionately affected. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), around 80% of those displaced by climate-related disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts, are women and girls. These environmental upheavals not only disrupt livelihoods but also exacerbate existing gender inequalities, as women often shoulder the primary responsibility for caregiving and household management. Consequently, women face heightened vulnerabilities as climate refugees, including increased risks of gender-based violence, exploitation, and limited access to essential resources such as food, water, and healthcare.

Moreover, women frequently find themselves ensnared in the midst of armed conflicts, enduring targeted violence, and displacement as a consequence. The toll of war on women is staggering, with women and children accounting for the majority of civilian casualties in conflict zones, according to the United Nations. Women face heightened risks of sexual violence, forced displacement, and other forms of gender-based harm. Furthermore, the deliberate targeting of women during wartime underscores the urgent need for gender-sensitive approaches to conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

In addition to the challenges posed by conflict, the threat of famine looms large in regions grappling with climate-related disruptions, exacerbating food insecurity and malnutrition, particularly among women and children. The World Food Programme (WFP) reports that approximately 60% of those affected by acute hunger are women and girls, who often bear the brunt of inadequate food supplies and nutrition deficiencies. Famine not only jeopardizes women’s health and well-being but also perpetuates cycles of poverty and inequality, further marginalizing already vulnerable populations.

In conclusion, the statistics of women as climate refugees, victims of conflict, and casualties of famine underscore the interconnected nature of gender, environmental, and humanitarian crises. As the impacts of climate change intensify and conflicts persist, women find themselves at the forefront of adversity, bearing disproportionate burdens and facing heightened vulnerabilities. Addressing these multifaceted challenges necessitates holistic and gender-sensitive approaches that prioritize the rights, needs, and agency of women and girls. By empowering women as agents of change and ensuring their full participation in decision-making processes, societies can build greater resilience and inclusivity to confront the complex challenges of our time.

On the 8th of March, we can only cover our heads in shame.

Ruwantissa Abeyratne

Dr. Abeyratne teaches aerospace law at McGill University. Among the numerous books he has published are Air Navigation Law (2012) and Aviation Safety Law and Regulation (to be published in 2023). He is a former Senior Legal Counsel at the International Civil Aviation Organization.

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