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International Women’s Day 2013

March 8, 2013

Today is International Women’s Day, a tradition that traces its origins to a 1908 protest in the streets of New York for better working conditions. In 1977 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution requiring each member country to dedicate a specific day of the year as a United Nation’s Day of Women’s Rights and International Peace, an event marked on March 8 each year by the UN itself. This year’s official theme is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s official statement can be found here. Hundreds of official Women’s Day events are occurring around the world today, from educational speeches to musical performances, as a means both of celebrating the women of the world and raising awareness of gender inequality that persists everywhere.

As we celebrate today, however, it is worth considering why it is necessary to mark a specific day each year to recognize the women of the world.

According to an annual report issued by the World Economic Forum, Europe consistently leads the world in reducing the “global gender gap.” The report considers the distribution of resources between genders within each country, “regardless of the overall level of resources available,” and generally reveals that a country’s level of gender equality roughly correlates to that country’s competitiveness. This year, as in years past, Northern Europe tops the list of the most equitable countries, with Iceland coming in first and Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Ireland rounding out the top 5. (All six populated continents are represented before the United States which comes in at 22nd.) All in all, it seems Europe is doing pretty well when it comes to gender equality. That is, until you think of it on a non-relative basis.

According to (a website presented by the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women), between 40 and 50 percent of women in the EU experience unwanted sexual advancements, physical contact, or other forms of sexual harassment in the workplace. In no country in the European Union (according to the European Commission), is there payment equality between men and women. Minority women are a particularly targeted group for sexual violence in Europe as around the world, and 79 percent of trafficked people in the world are women or girls.

Yes, Europe has been particularly focused on raising awareness and eliminating gender inequalities which has allowed it to put up such strong comparative figures. But it is not only wrong but dangerous to think that these inequalities do not exist or are unimportant. International Women’s Day should not simply be an occasion for us to look around and congratulate ourselves on the progress already made. As we honor the women in our lives today, we should also think about the profoundly unequal world we still live in and how we can become agents to change it.


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