Conflict & Justice

On International Women's Day, marking the progress we have made — and haven't


Harbrinder Kaur (C), 22, who was allegedly beaten by police along with members of National Commission for schedule castes, hold candles with others during a vigil on International Women's Day in Amritsar on March 8, 2013.


Narinder Nanu

International Women’s Day began in 1909, when the Socialist Party of America set a day to honor a garment workers’ strike in protest of unfair working conditions the year before.

On March 19, 1911, International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where citizens held rallies, demanding women’s right to vote, work and hold public office.

Today, 55 women have served as heads of state, and nearly all countries that hold elections give women the right to vote.

But there is a long, long way to go before gender equality is achieved. This year’s theme of International Women’s Day is ending violence against women, which is fitting because nearly 7 in 10 women around the world will experience violence in their lifetime, according to UN Women. 

To honor the strides we have made — and point to those we have not — the International Women’s Day website lists 1427 events in more than 70 countries that were scheduled for this week:

* 17 events are listed in Pakistan. Among them, an event encouraging voting registration among rural women, and a rally to promote women’s rights.

On October 9, 2012, 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai was shot by Pakistani Taliban for promoting girls’ rights to education. 

* 92 events are listed in India, including a call to female doctors to create awareness about women’s health issues, and a panel discussion on empowering women through entrepreneurship opportunities.

In December 2012, the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman sent shock and outrage throughout the world. 

Two events are scheduled in Liberia, including a round table for female high school students, encouraging them to consider careers traditionally reserved for men.

Female genital mutilation has long been a problem in Liberia. In 2007, the World Health Organization reported that 58 percent of Liberian women between the ages of 15 and 49 had been genitally mutilated. 

* Three events are listed in Bangladesh, including a call to stop violence against women. 

A fire at Tazreen Fashions Ltd. In November 2012 killed 112 garment workers and exposed to the world the Bangladeshi garment industry’s inhumane working conditions. Bangladeshi garment workers are primarily women. 

* Three events are listed in Afghanistan, including a recognition of women in the Afghan Airforce.

A UNICEF report released in September 2012 found that one in four women in the country delivered a live birth before reaching adulthood.

One event is listed in Turkey - a reflection of being a woman in academia.

Abortion has been legal in Turkey for almost 40 years, but it has become increasingly difficult for women to access.

* 239 events are listed in the US, including soliciting women to post a photo of their high heels to symbolize women’s lives, and a conference featuring some of the top women researchers on women’s issues. 

The Violence Against Women Act was signed by President Obama on March 7, but it was held up in the House of Representatives for a year because of disagreements about protections for gays and lesbians. 

It seems we could benefit from 1427 events in more than 70 countries to promote women’s rights every day. Or better yet, maybe we should strive to reach a time when we don't need such events at all.