Today is International Women’s Day.
Observed since 1909 in the United States and now a day celebrated (largely) globally, it’s a time to highlight, honor, and draw attention to the achievements, rights, and progress made by and for women worldwide.
(It’s one of my favorite holidays.)
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Make It Happen,” a call to action for the numerous issues facing women today.
And make it happen we very much need to…
You see, according to a report released last week by UN Women, not a *single* country has achieved gender equality since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, a watershed gathering where 189 countries met and architected a roadmap for the obtainment of women’s equality. (This was the conference where Hillary Clinton famously said “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.” — the arguable penultimate rallying cry for feminists of my generation.)
However, 20 years out from Beijing, while we as a global community have made progress on some fronts (most notably in education and health access and parity), according to Phuzmile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, we still have a tremendously long, long way to go. How long? According to Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka:
“A girl born today will have to wait 50 years before she’s projected to have an equal chance at running a government. She’ll have to wait 70 years before the pay gap evens out, and she’ll have to wait 81 years before she might have the same chance as a man of being the CEO of a company.”
Furthermore, consider these statistics: Today, women still only comprise 22% of politicians worldwide and 8% of the world’s executives; 95% of countries have a male head of state; Women work 2/3 of the world’s hours yet earn 1/10 of the world’s income; 64% of illiterate adults are women; One in four women is physically or sexually abused during pregnancy; Globally, nearly 40% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner; Every day, 39,000 girls are forced into early marriage (that’s 27 girls a minute!).
Clearly, we have a very, very long way to go before gender equity is achieved.
As the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day suggests, awareness is simply not enough anymore. This is the time for global, massive, sustained, and strategic action if we are to have any hope of achieving gender parity and equity and actualizing Beijing’s goals. “Make It Happen”, indeed! And, as we make it happen, we may also recognize that we cannot get to where we want to go by replicating what we’ve done before in the fight to advance women’s equality.
We will need continued global dialogues, continued massive policy changes, and continued engagement and commitment from male leaders (of government and the private sector), to be sure. And also, according to Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka says, “the key [now] is for men and boys to give up the privileges of patriarchy that they are born with.”
So what does *this* mean?
Well, as a psychotherapist (intern) and women and girl’s rights activist, when I read these words, I believe that Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka is calling on us as a community to address the psychosocial aspects of gender inequality – like privileges, yes, and also gender roles and norms, socially reinforced introjects around masculinity and femininity, etc.. And, I have to say, this excites me! It excites me to think that the head of UN Women is potentially calling on us all to look at gender inequality (and the solutions to gender equality) through a more integral lens that accounts for the social and psychological forces men and women have, to date, contended with.
We cannot get to where we want to go (gender equality for all) by doing what’s been done so far. So, on this International Women’s Day (and on all days moving forward!) I for one hope that we can heed Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka’s words and widen the scope of the issue of gender inequality to include conversation, activism, and interventions that address patriarchal privileges and the psychosocial component that may be influencing our work to achieve equal human rights for all.
Happy International Women’s Day, everyone! May you and I do our parts to “Make It Happen” and accelerate the progress towards achieving global gender equality this year.
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