by Rachel Vogler
Today, Monday 8 March 2021, marks International Women’s Day (IWD), a chance for us all to celebrate the achievements of women around the world and reaffirm our commitment to forging gender justice. This past year has been challenging beyond our collective imagination, with women and girls experiencing added physical, emotional and institutional barriers in the chaos of a global pandemic.
This year the UN theme of IWD is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”, celebrating the immense achievements of women and girls in shaping a gender equitable response to the turbulence of the year. The theme also aligns with the priority theme of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.”
Every victory we have had this year has been made possible in part due to the determination, leadership and sacrifice of women around the world. From the presence of women on the front lines as caregivers, community organisers, and health providers, the contribution of women has been felt in every stride forwards. So many of the countries who have been more successful in responding to the pandemic and its wider ramifications on society are headed by women. Take Denmark, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand and Slovakia, all praised for the compassion, efficiency and leadership of their responses.
The leadership of women in this context has been a hard-fought battle. Women’s organisations in the UK have been referring to the experience of women and girls over the past year against the backdrop of a ‘dual pandemic’, illustrating the prevalence of gender-based violence as declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation in 2013 and compounded by COVD19. Across the world women are facing increased domestic violence, unpaid care duties and high rates of unemployment. Although women make up the majority of front-line workers, they are underrepresented in national and global policy-making spaces.
Women’s rights are human rights!” goes the battle cry. In practice, women have the right to live free from violence and discrimination; to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; to be educated; to own property; to vote; and to earn an equal wage. These rights will be fully realised only when they are proportionately represented in all sectors of society.
From the #MeToo movement to the intersectionality of racism and sexism platformed by women in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, the legacy of advocating for women’s rights is bold and innovative. In both our building back after the pandemic and subsequent return to a not-quite-the-same world, our task for those concerned with human rights is to honour these legacies by acting boldly and compassionately.
At René Cassin, our vision is of a world where everyone fully enjoys all their human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As we celebrate International Women’s Day this year, we are taking the opportunity to reaffirm that this vision will only be realised when the rights of women are seen as fundamental to the safety and protection of us all. Our ask? That we each acknowledge our role in championing values of equality and justice. In this way, we are all leaders on the path to concrete change. In this and in everything, it is our hope that we hold fast to the work made possible by women and their allies as we look to a changed, equitable future.