International Women’s Day is a time of celebration, when activists, feminists and women’s movements appreciate the many advances that we have helped to bring about worldwide.
In many ways, the world for many women is a substantially better place than it was just over 30 years ago when the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women entered into force and when we first celebrated International Women’s Day, nearly 100 years ago in 1914.
This week’s elections in Kenya saw a voter turnout of around 70%. This included both men and women. More girls are accessing and completing school. More women have access to contraception and are making decisions about whether to have children and if so, when and how many.
But the reality is that we have a very long way to go.
International Women's Day presents an opportunity to evaluate what we are doing right and what we can do better to improve in our fight for women’s rights
So, how are we doing? Well, as is customary, let’s start with the bad news. The sad reality here is that there’s a lot of competition among women’s rights organisations and activists for money and space. This is, in part, an unfortunate result of the global crisis.
Unless the pot of money grows, it is easy to suggest that there’s a limit to how many of us can do this work effectively. On the contrary, I think that the more voices there are fighting for equality, the more pockets will open and more resources will be put towards work on women’s rights.
There is also a need for more collaboration so we can better use these limited funds. We need to sit together as individuals and organisations and spend time reflecting on what it is that we have in common and our shared vision for a better world.
And our achievements?
Women have done an incredible job at joining hands to rise up. The success of One Billion Rising on 14 February in countries such as India, Turkey and Brazil was a reflection of the power of different women joining hands to challenge what seems to be an acceptance that violence against women will remain an unfortunate daily reality for many.
I also believe that the women’s movement globally is becoming more and more representative.
While the ‘Arab Spring’ failed to deliver the change for women that was demanded, it showed the global women’s rights movement the power of Arab women to rise up and demand change
There have been many setbacks for the rights of women living across the Arab region but Arab women – across Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Yemen – continue to mobilise. To me, the Arab Spring showed the importance of a more inclusive women’s movement.
ActionAid’s commitment to women’s rights
International Women’s Day is also a chance for us to evaluate how we are doing on our commitment to put women at the centre of everything we do.
From our work with smallholder farmers through to increasing women’s control over their bodies, we have to work harder to challenge patriarchal values, to question interventions that treat gender as a last minute add-on that ticks a box and to ensure that we work alongside our partners to continue to demand the space for grassroots women to have a say.
International Women’s Day also gives us a chance to think about the three pillars of our Human Rights Based Approach – empowerment, solidarity and campaigning. It strikes me more and more what a perfect trio this is for our work on women’s rights.
We must empower women and girls to know their rights and to claim them
We must join hands across movements, across regions, to work together and particularly ensure that we create space and amplify the voices of the marginalised and poor. And we must campaign – in whatever form – to challenge national and international policy agendas that sideline women and deny women a voice in decision-making spaces.
So on International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate our successes. But let’s also mark new ways forward by using this as a moment to identify what we can do better.