(This article was first written in 2020 and has been updated since.)
The month of March marks International Women’s Day as the global celebration of women recognized widely throughout the 20th century after its official launch by the United Nations General Assembly in 1977. It is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. Yet, the day isn’t simply a celebration — it is an international call to action for everyone to continue to push for complete gender equality.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is “Choose to Challenge.” In 2020 was “Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.” The year before that it was “Think Equal, Be Smart: Innovate for Change.” In 2018 it said, “Time is Now: Rural & Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives.” In 2017 it was “Be Bold for Change.” In 2016 it reminded the world that to the benefit of humanity “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” was essential. In 2015 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.” The year 2012 claimed to “Empower Rural Women: End Hunger and Poverty.” 2011 demanded “Equal Access to Education: Pathway to Decent Work for Women.” 2010 promoted “Equal rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All.”
Need I continue? Shamefully, it feels like a broken record. The fact that we are still fighting a battle for equality and for the recognition of the value of women’s contributions to society is indeed a shame.
There is ample evidence that investing in women is the most effective way to lift communities, companies, and even countries. Women’s participation makes peace agreements stronger, societies more resilient and economies more vigorous.
At this crucial moment for women’s rights, it is time for men to stand with women, listen to them and learn from them and fight for gender equality in their communities. As real fathers of daughters, men should share the vision of a world where every human being is equally respected. Men should share the vision of a world where women and daughters are protected, defended and nurtured. If we are ever to defeat the systems of oppression we are all subject to, men must be involved and must work together with women on these issues.
“Those of us who have the opportunity to celebrate have the responsibility to speak for those who cannot.”
Today, March 8, women will come together and pat each other on the back to celebrate International Women’s day; we celebrate the day with flowers, and praise each other for work well done. And truly, there are many women whose work is selflessly well done and recognized for their courage. However, those of us who have the opportunity to celebrate have the responsibility to speak for those who cannot. There are women out there who are under restrictive rules dictated by a culture that prohibits them from health care, or pursuing an education, or participating in their family’s economic progress, or in politics and worse yet, endure violence and abuse.
As an Armenian, I speak to those of my culture and heritage who must not ignore the violation of human rights that goes on in and among our culture and our homeland. We cannot turn a blind eye to the atrocity when only last year a 43 years young mother was beaten to death in Gyumri and her 13 years young daughter was beaten to a pulp and left to die. We can celebrate the day of the woman, but we will never enjoy the dignity deserved as women, as mothers, sisters, daughters, unless human rights of all women are respected and protected. Government and law enforcement in Armenia (and around the world) must accept their responsibility to protect and promote internationally recognized human rights as set by the Vienna Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, appointed in 1994.
I urge you, not to remain silent for fear of your professions, for fear of political or religious persecution by your peers. Let your this day of celebration be the day when you give voice to the girls and women whose words are unheard and whose presence is unnoticed.
Do the right thing.
Choose to Challenge the status quo and become the agents of change.
We are all parts of a whole. Our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society. I urge you. Break the Silence. Speak up to stop the violence. Enlist women and men to step forward and join the drive toward a world in which women feel safe at home (and at work) and enjoy freedom to pursue their dreams and their potential.
I urge you.
If not now, When?
If not us, Who?