The theme for International Women’s Day 2016 is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. Last year it was “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It.” In 2014 it was “Equality for Women is Progress for All.” In 2013 it was “A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence Against Women.” 2012 claimed to “Empower Rural Women: End Hunger and Poverty.” Need I continue? Shamefully, it feels like a broken record. The fact that we are still fighting a battle for equality and the recognition of the value of women’s contributions to society is indeed a shame.
Efforts to remind the international community that discrimination against women continues to be a persistent problem in much of the world, started four decades ago at the Mexico City Conference in 1975, when the first world conference on the Status of Women was convened to coincide with the International Women’s Year. While these efforts of the previous four decades helped, at a snail’s pace, to improve certain women’s conditions and access to resources, they have not been able to change the basic structure of women’s rights as human rights and the inequality in the relationship between men and women.
Despite the indisputable gains over the years, women are still being raped, trafficked, violated and discriminated against — not just in the United States but in the rest of the world. And though the United Nations, women organizations, affiliates and the Commission on the Status of Women continue to fight gender injustices, most people seem to think that outside of a few lingering battles, the work of women’s rights is done. And why not — it’s a feel-good illusion. We work and take care of our children; we participate in parish councils and political campaigns; we admire Barbara Walters, report dangerously with Christiane Amanpour, cry with Oprah, come out with Ellen DeGeneres and laugh with Tina Fey; we pride in Madeleine Albright, give thumbs up to Susan Rice, value Samantha Powers, cheer Hillary Rodham Clinton and sigh with relief, believing we’ve come so far. For all our “empowered” rhetoric, too many of us ignore the oppression on our doorstep and on those of our neighbors’.
The truth is, women and girls make up more than half the world’s population, yet they are the most exposed and deeply impacted by poverty, climate change, food insecurity, lack of healthcare, global economic crises and distressing domestic violence and abuse. Most of these women don’t have the privilege of being able to look at gender justice from a distance; they have no choice but to live it every day. Those of us who are lucky enough not to have to think about violence toward woman/child, poverty, sex discrimination, education, equal access to employment, homophobia and survival on a daily basis — those of us who have the privilege — have the responsibility to open our eyes to the injustices in front of us. And then, we have the responsibility to stop it.
Because we know that when women progress, countries progress. No country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind. Women’s political, social and economic empowerment is critical to driving positive development in every society. Today, there is an ocean of data that positively corresponds investment in women with a country’s prosperity, yet women are still vastly underrepresented in the U.S., Armenia and globally. They hold less than one-fifth of positions in national governments meaning that important decisions that affect women, their families, and their societies are made without their having a voice. Democracy without women (half the world’s population) is a contradiction in terms.
The overarching principle is that everyone, regardless of gender, has the right to work and support themselves, to balance career and family life, and to live without the fear of abuse or violence. Gender equality implies equal distribution of opportunities between men and women in ALL domains of society. Surmounting the barriers and breaking down the stereotypes can but contribute to the growth and progress of families, communities and countries.
In line with this year’s theme we envision a world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights by 2030. Step It Up. Seek ways to advance other women to become stronger catalysts for change. Advocate. Ask governments to make national commitments. Demand legislative changes that will close the gender equality gap. Break the silence. Involve your men to improve your rights. NOW is the time to Step It Up!
On a side-bar: The Armenian International Women’s Association founded 25 years ago is probably the only Armenian women’s group that has boldly taken on the responsibility of presenting a proactive agenda to improve the rights of women both in Armenia and globally. AIWA recognizes that women are the agents of change in society – advancing political, economic, and social progress, creating peace and stability. AIWA is particularly active in such UN affiliates as the Commission on the Status of Women, which sponsors annual conferences in New York in the spring; and UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women. Ever since AIWA’s 2004 International Conference in Geneva, it has had a registered delegation. I am proud to say that on Monday, March 14, AIWA will be presenting Development of Programs and Evaluation Methodologies Designed to Achieve Gender Equality at the 60th Anniversary of the CSW in New York.
NOW, Step It Up!