Twenty years ago, 189 countries and 4,000 organizations made a pledge to commit to a future in which women had equal rights. Twenty years on, as pointed out by UN Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, none of these countries - not a single one - has achieved gender equality. The statistics are sickening.
In her opinion-editorial piece on International Women's Day 2015, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka stated "Women left Beijing with high hopes, with a well-defined path towards equality, and firm commitments at the highest level. Their hope was that we would see this by 2005. Today, not one single country has achieved equality. It is more urgent than ever that we define - and stick to - a time frame".
Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka also pointed out that there has been some progress, namely in the area of closing the gender gap in education, gender parity in school enrolment in some cases, reducing maternal mortality and morbidity, while laws have been passed on domestic violence, discrimination and gender inequality.
But... "A woman's place is in the kitchen"; "Women should be seen and not heard"; "I don't need a washing machine, I have one at home - my wife!"; "She needs a good screwing!"; "She's a witch, drown her!"; "She was raped, stone her!"; "She brought dishonor on this family, set fire to her!"; "You are a girl, you must work in the fields so your brothers can go to school"; "It is time for your excision, your clitoris must be removed so you will not feel sexual pleasure and play around otherwise you will never find a husband"; "You want to join this team? You aren't planning on starting a family, are you?". Empty words and phrases? Let's have a look at the statistics.
15% of women will be the victim of a completed rape in their lifetimes, according to the National Violence Against Women Survey (1998); 70 per cent of crop production is performed by women in Africa while only two per cent of the land is owned by women; Women own one per cent of the world's property, earn 10% of the world's income, yet perform 66% of the work, and produce 50% of the food; Women have to work longer hours than men to receive the same income;
Women are concentrated in insecure jobs in the informal sector and are far more vulnerable to unemployment; A WHO study conducted in ten countries discovered that between 15 and 71% of women reported physical or sexual violence perpetrated by a husband or partner; For the 15-44 age group, violence causes more victims among women than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war;
Up to 40% of women in some countries stated that their first sexual encounter was not consensual; There are 5,000 honor killings worldwide per year; 20% of women worldwide experience sexual abuse as children; In South Africa, one woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner; in India 22 women are murdered each day in dowry-related incidents, often burnt alive; 80% of the world's victims of human trafficking are women;
100 to 140 million girls have been the victims of Female Genital Mutilation, 3 million girls per year are subjected to this horrific act of intrusion; There are 60 million girls per year forced into marriage as child brides; Worldwide, 25% of pregnant women are subjected to physical or sexual abuse (including being punched or kicked in the abdomen); 40 to 50% of women in the EU have experienced sexual harassment at work; 83% of girls in the USA experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools.
The need for change
In her article, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka underlined the "overwhelming benefits" which gender parity can bring: "Economies grow, poverty is alleviated, health status climbs, and communities are more stable and resilient to environmental or humanitarian crises.
Women want their leaders to renew the promises made to them. They want leaders to recommit to the Beijing Declaration, to the Platform for Action, and to accelerated and bolder implementation".
The role of women through history: The power of symbolism
Once upon a time, many societies were matriarchal, ruled by women, the practice of religion was controlled by women, the priestess/curer who used a symbol of authority, showing her power to cure the worst of all ills, the snake bite. What do you see outside your pharmacy today? The staff with a snake wrapped around it? That was the symbol she used.
The Moon was the Goddess who appeared at night, accompanied by the owl (white). What gender is the Moon in all the languages you know? Feminine. In Russian it is Luna (-a termination is feminine). The color of death was white, like the owl and stone owl-like effigies were buried with the dead, with multiple waves engraved on the stone, these being evocative of the feathers but also of water, the symbol of eternal life and the place from where life appeared.
We are speaking of maybe five thousand years before the Christian era, we are speaking of the Vinca culture in Romania, we are speaking of numerous cultures around the world which were matriarchal, before something happened. The Moon Goddess gave way to the Sun (what gender is the Sun in your language?), and the Priestess was replaced by the Priest. The color representing death became black. Darkness became evil, something sinister, negative. For some reason. The Goddesses only know why.
And lo and behold, societies have highlighted the supremacy of the male since then. God is referred to as He and Him, masculine takes preference over feminine in grammar (he, she, it; in Russian он, она, оно, where н = n). And now for religion.
What gender was Christ? Mohammed? Moses? David? Solomon? Buddha? What was the issue with Fatima and Ali in Islam? In the Christian religion, we have the virgin birth.
Why did Mary not have the right, even, to have a normal birth, as a woman? Why did it have to be the Holy Spirit? Why did Mary Magdalene, almost certainly the partner of Yeshua (Jesus) not have the right to be consecrated as his wife, or partner, and why was she relegated to the status of a prostitute?
Why was Eve the beginning of evil in the Garden of Eden? Why did she betray Adam and collude with the serpent (remember the serpent on the staff which disappeared)? Why was it Eve who ate the forbidden fruit?
In modern times, the woman was considered too hysterical to form a logical opinion and was therefore denied the right to the vote until less than one century ago. Ηυστερικοσ (Hysterikos) in Greek, means "suffering in the womb", meaning in turn that a hysterical woman needed "a good screw" to become calmer.
It is not surprising that such ridiculous notions had become policy under enlightened Governments, when the Scriptures themselves were full of references which place the masculine on top and the feminine underneath.
Maybe we do not need to question our religions, which by and large, set out reasonable benchmarks for codes of behavior and offer routes to Knowledge and Answers. Maybe we should entertain the notion that every man comes from a woman and that every man would naturally defend the honor of his mother. Therefore, why not defend the honor of the mothers of other (wo)men?
History of International Women's Day
International Women's Day started in the United States of America, and was launched by a declaration of the Socialist Party of America on February 28th, 1909 using as a basis the need to guarantee women's rights in an increasingly industrialized society and was taken up by the international community at the first International Women's Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1910. The horrific and inhumane conditions at the New York Triangle Shirtwaist factory which caused the deaths of 140 garment workers (mostly women) in 1911 provided an added impetus at a time when women were pressing for the right to vote and demonstrations in Russia prior to the 1917 Revolution were the first signs of women's emancipation in this country, culminating in the declaration by Lenin of a Women's Day on March 8th; in 1965 it was declared a public holiday by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.
Why March 8th?
Women had been demonstrating for their rights since pre-Classical times (e.g. the sexual strike called by Lysistrata in Ancient Greece, the March on Versailles by Parisian woman calling for "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" in the 1790s). Copenhagen had chosen 19th March for the celebration of an International Women's Day but in 1913, Russian women chose the last Sunday in February (following the Declaration by the Socialist Party of America in 1909) as the date for their International Women's Day to call for peace on the eve of the First World War. As Springtime and local fertility rites and customs to give the first flowers to women combined, the end of Febuary/beginning of March began to be the time of year observed by the feminist movements, until in 1917, Russian women called a strike on the last Sunday of February to protest against the War (23rd February) in the Julian Calendar; 8th March in the Gregorian.
Womanhood must stand on the same podium as manhood as an equal partner of a civilized Humankind, men must perform their role in society reporting incidents of gender abuse, harassment or violence of any form and we must use this year to make a difference. It is an insult to Humanity that twenty years after Beijing, we read statistics such as those presented above. This is our watch, history will judge us for what we have (not) done! Or are we going to write the same old op-ed pieces with the same old statistics year after year after year?
I would like to finish with the words of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: "Today, on International Women's Day, we call on our countries to "step it up" for gender equality, with substantive progress by 2020. Our aim is to reach 'Planet 50:50' before 2030".
*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. He is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights.
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