8 reasons why we still need International Women’s Day (and what you can do about it!)
International Women’s Day, March 8, is a rallying point for feminists worldwide. Established by the United Nations in 1975, it is a day to celebrate women’s achievements while highlighting remaining gender inequalities. But 41 years later, is it still necessary?
YES! Women and girls may have scaled unimaginable heights in politics, science, arts, sports and business, but gender equality is not yet a reality anywhere in the world. Here are eight reasons why International Women’s Day is still so needed.
1. Women and girls continue to be sexually harassed in public places
Sexual harassment is a daily reality for women and girls wherever they are. One UN study revealed that 43% of young women in London, UK, had experienced harassment on the street. In Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, the UN found that 90% of women and girls experienced some form of sexual violence. Sexual harassment and sexual violence are similarly a scourge for refugee women. Syrian refugee women like Maryam, currently in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, have said that refugee women and girls are frequently targeted for abuse: “Whether I’m single or married, I’m always harassed,” she says.
TAKE ACTION by urging Canada to take a leadership role in the protection of civilians in Syria.
2. Women and girls continue to experience violence
One third of women in Canada and around the world will experience some form of violence in their lifetime. But the same gender inequalities that lead to high rates of violence against women also lead to barriers in reporting violence. In Canada, for example, only 10% of sexual assaults are reported, and of those, very few perpetrators held to account for their actions. Women’s rights activists like Su Changlan in China work continue to work tirelessly for an end to the violence.
TAKE ACTION by writing a letter urging China to release women’s rights activist Su Changlan
3. Indigenous women and girls disproportionately experience violence
If you are an Indigenous woman or girl in Canada—whether you live on reserve or in an urban area, regardless of your age or socio-economic status—the simple fact that you are an Indigenous woman or girl means that you are at least 3 times more likely to experience violence, and at least 6 times more likely to be murdered than any other woman or girl in Canada. This violence is a national human rights crisis and it must stop.
In December 2015, the newly-elected federal government made a commitment to convene an independent public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The inquiry is one of many steps needed to stop the violence. Your continued action and solidarity with Indigenous women and families is needed throughout the inquiry process.
TAKE ACTION by standing with Indigenous women and families to end the violence
4. Women are impacted in different ways than men by natural resource development
Across Canada, Indigenous peoples are under increasing pressure from large-scale resource development projects and related infrastructure development on and near their traditional territories. These projects can have differing impacts for women and girls than for men and boys. This is especially true in situations in which women and girls are more deeply engaged in traditional land use activities such as tending plant medicines or, as is often the case, have less access to the high-paying jobs and other benefits that may arise from resource development projects.
Most large-scale resource development projects in Canada rely on bringing large numbers of outside workers into the regions where resources are being extracted. This model of development often leads to greatly inflated local housing prices, and an overall higher cost of living, as well as increased demands on government services in the region. This can adversely impact those who do not have access to the high wages offered by industry, which is a situation that disproportionately affects women and their families. A growing number of studies also link the stressful work conditions and other factors associated with the conditions of temporary work camps with increased rates of violence against women when workers are off shift. While environmental assessments in Canada are intended to weigh environmental harm against the social benefits of a proposed project, these gendered impacts are routinely ignored.
TAKE ACTION by urging Canada to stop ignoring the rights of Indigenous peoples and halt construction of the Site C hydroelectric dam
5. Girls continue to be forced into marriage
More than 700 million women alive today were married before they were 18 - about 1 in 3 of them before she was 15 - according to UNICEF. Among the countries with the highest number of forced and early marriages is Burkina Faso, ranked 7th, with 52% of girls married before the age of 18. When a girl is forced into marriage, she usually has to give up school and accept early and often consecutive pregnancies. Despite the risk of losing their own families, many girls in Burkina Faso rebel against forced marriage—finding their way to shelters sometimes thousands of kilometers from their homes.
TAKE ACTION and urge Burkina Faso to enforce its laws against early and forced marriage.
6. Women are being jailed for decades after suffering still-births
It’s happened in El Salvador and Nicaragua. It’s happened in the USA as well. Women in these countries have been arrested after suffering a miscarriage or complications with their pregnancies – and jailed for decades. This can only happen in a state where abortion is illegal. Teodora is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence after suffering a still-birth. Charged with “aggravated homicide”, she is another casualty of El Salvador’s total ban on abortion.
TAKE ACTION and call on El Salvador to free Teodora.
7. Women and girls can’t always access abortions they desperately need
About 39% of the world’s population live in countries where abortion is either totally banned or allowed only if a woman’s life or health are in danger. Among those countries are Chile, where abortion is totally banned, and Ireland, where it is only allowed if a woman is at risk of dying. In both countries, women carrying foetuses with fatal health problems are forced to carry their pregnancies to full term or bear the cost of travelling to another country to access these vital services. Similarly in both, women with fatal health conditions are often refused life-saving treatment because of the risk it poses to the foetus. Withholding medical treatment in these contexts—or forcing a woman to endure the pain of carrying to full term a foetus they know will die—amounts to torture.
TAKE ACTION by collecting signatures on our petition calling on Ireland to decriminalize abortion.
8. The safety and security of women human rights defenders is often threatened
Women in Saudi Arabia who protest a law against women driving face jail time. Women in Guatemala speaking out against proposed natural resource development projects face harassment and threats. Women in Iran who protest the country’s proposed laws inhibiting women’s sexual and reproductive rights receive lengthy jail sentences. And women in Sudan who wear pants to protest the country’s laws on what clothing women can wear face time in jail. No matter what issue a woman is advocating on, sometimes simply being a woman in the public sphere can lead to harrassment, threats, or arrest.
Taking action in support of women’s rights—calling for change in laws and practices—often forces women to step outside the norms of what is considered acceptable behaviour for a woman in their society. And for this, women human rights activists are often at great risk of experiencing harrassment, threats and violence. Many, like Berta Caceres in Honduras, continue their work despite the risks. Berta, an Indigenous activist defending her traditional territory in the face of massive resource development, was murdered last week in her home while she slept. Women like Berta continue their work despite the risks because of their deep commitment to making the world a more just and equitable place.
TAKE ACTION and call on Honduras to protect the sole witness to Berta's murder
Want a few more ideas about how you can mark International Women’s Day?
- Take a few moments to celebrate our women’s rights successes from the past year.
- Join the online conversation about women’s rights—share a great article, links to actions, and declare to the social media world that you are a proud feminist!
- Take all the actions mentioned above. Looking for other actions? Go to our women's rights webpage.
- Attend a local event celebrating International Women’s Day.
- Read Amnesty's Book Club feature for March, The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor and check out our accompanying discussion guide.
- Make every day International Women’s Day! Take the momentum of today, and carry it forward throughout the year.
Learn more about Amnesty International's work to promote women's rights in Canada and around the world.