This post was researched and co-written by Chantal Flores, a Nation intern and freelance writer living in New York City.
The world has been celebrating International Women’s Day since 1911 when it was established largely thanks to the efforts of activist Clara Zetkin. The idea was to create a global forum for celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.
This video offers a nice capsule history of the occasion.
Today, one year short of the celebration’s centenary, women around the world are still facing a phalanx of abuses ranging from wage inequality to femicide. The most urgent cases are those of women in war zones; seventy-five percent of people killed in war are women and children, and places like the Democratic Republic of Congo where tens of thousands of females have been terrorized by the widespread application of rape as a weapon, are downright horrific.
To honor and help women living in the most blighted and war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sudan, Women for Women International have started the "Join Me on the Bridge” campaign, which will bring women from Rwanda and Congo together in peace on a bridge between their countries to demand an end to war and to demonstrate that women can build the bridges to peace and development.
In Guatemala, women also have it very rough; more than 4,000 women and girls have been raped and murdered in the past decade. In response, Guatemalan-based Women Worker’s Committee, a sister organization of the international women’s human rights group Madre has organized neighborhood watch groups. Flashlights and whistles — inexpensive asks — are essential for this project.
In Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, although no accurate statistics are available, almost 500 women have been said to have been tortured, raped, murdered, and dumped onto the streets since 1993. Groups of women have been demanding justice, yet despite international support, the majority of the cases are still “unresolved.” The “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” project, part of the civil organization Las Hormigas, is trying to raise awareness about gender violence and discrimination by supporting a female cooperative that promotes women’s rights while providing a safe space serving hot food.
The plight of women in Afghanistan has been well documented, as has the role of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) in fighting for gender rights since 1977. Yet the group still faces many obstacles, compounded by a lack of international support. Despite a struggle with finances, RAWA is helping female Afghan refugees in Pakistan by running schools, mobile health teams, and handicrafts workshops among other things.
And though conditions are infinitely better for women in the United States than the aforementioned nations, 1,181 women were murdered by their intimate partner last year; reproductive rights are still practically restricted through both state and federal legislation, and women earn just 78 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Vast progress has been made since the first International Women’s Day in 1911, yet there’s still a long, long way to go to create a world where women are not silenced with violence and discrimination.
Throughout this month, countries and communities are celebrating, honoring and defending the rights of women with a global array of diverse local activities ranging from political rallies, business conferences, sporting events, networking confabs, women’s craft markets, film festivals, theatrical performances, fashion parades and much more. Find an event near you and help spread the word.