For International Women’s Day 2016, a Humble Tribute
Gender parity is the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, which is being celebrated around the world today, and officially by the United Nations for the 41st consecutive year. More specifically, the theme is the demand to speed up progress on gender equality in order to meet the world body’s “Planet 50-50 by 2030” pledge, one which looks alarmingly out of reach in the next decade and a half.
Those findings were underscored in Women at Work: Trends 2016, a report released today by the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO), which looked at data from 178 countries. It found that the rate of women’s participation in the workforce was 25.5% lower than men’s participation in 2015, a gap only 0.6% narrower than 20 years ago.
That’s just one aspect of the gap, the more visible one those of us in the developed world can see, at least on paper if not in practice. Globally, and in more ‘real’ terms, the picture is much more bleak, underscoring that women simply can’t wait until 2133.
Women represent a staggering 70% of the world’s poor, shoulder a disproportionate brunt of their family’s responsibilities, and face an endless litany of injustice and discrimination that blocks or limits access to even their most basic needs.
Women produce half the world’s food, work two-thirds of the world’s working hours but take home just ten percent of the world’s income. One in five will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. One woman dies every minute giving birth. Too many are prevented from attending even primary school. Until those things change, nothing else will.
That’s not to say that change hasn’t come since widespread campaigning for women’s equality began in the early years of the last century, most of it in the developed world.
Like similar observances where equal and human rights are at their core, International Women’s Day has its roots as a Socialist political event –given rise in the U.S. no less– which was first observed as “Women’s Day” in February 1909 to honor a 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York City where women protested their abysmal working conditions.
The idea crossed the Atlantic to Europe the following year and in 1911 was held officially as International Women’s Day for the first time. By the middle of the nineteen-teens it became a strong mechanism for protesting the first world war and to demand women’s suffrage.
It wasn’t until 1975, which was dubbed International Women’s Year by the UN, that the United Nations began to officially celebrate IWD.
While it’s celebrated in different countries in different ways –it’s an official state holiday in nearly 30– the day has largely maintained its political flavor, in the sense that it attempts to draw attention to the wide disparities that still exist between men and women.
To put a face on some of those numbers this morning we needn’t look much farther than one of the southern borders of the fractured European Union where a makeshift camp has penned the most recent refugees arriving from Syria, Iraq, Iran and elsewhere.
As of January 15, 2016, according to the UNHCR, over 55 per cent of those arriving are now women and children, as compared to just 27 per cent in June 2015.
As border and transit restrictions tighten, the risks women carry with them –sexual violence and exploitation chief among them– increase exponentially. There’s little reason to celebrate International Women’s Day on the Greek-Macedonian border this morning.
As my modest tribute, below are 92 images of women that I crossed paths with over the past few years, from 30 cities in 18 countries on five continents.
Because like Earth Day, every day is International Women’s Day.