Thursday, 8 March 2012

Social engagement is key to potential and power this International Women's Day

by Bobbie Saga

Women across the globe are using the power of social media to call for equality this International Women's Day.

And what’s being said is that International Women’s Day is much more than just another day of celebration. Online women are using Twitter, facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn to focus global attention on areas where inequalities still prevail.

For a vast majority of those who can, and much more important to many, is that today is an opportunity to connect on very important issues. Overwhelmingly, girls and women are using the world-wide web to say this is an occasion to reflect on past struggles, as well as to engage, to inspire, to learn and to discuss what more needs to be done for the sake of future generations of girls and women.

Unfortunately, part of that dialogue is the horrifying fact that some people think women already have equality.
Nothing could be further from the truth.

Across the globe, and for a sobering example, gender-based violence causes more deaths and disabilities among women of childbearing age than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.

Feminism shouldn’t be an F-word

As an ambassador for Oxfam, and working to raise awareness about Aids and women’s issues, singer songwriter Annie Lennox put it into perspective during last year’s International Woman’s day celebration and 100th anniversary.

"Despite the fact that half of the world’s population is female, women’s rights have become marginalized as a ‘minority issue’. Many young women feel that the label of ‘feminist’ is, at best, irrelevant to their lives and, at worst, a stigma to be avoided at all costs," Lennox said.

"Sullied by stereotypes of hairy arm-pitted man haters, the concept of feminism and its principles of equality and anti-sexism need to be refreshed and reclaimed by a new generation. Feminism shouldn’t be an F-word. We should embrace it."

Lennox went on to say, "From Milwaukee to Malawi, women are being short-changed on life chances. From India to Illinois, women face violence just for being female. Of the 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty worldwide, the vast majority are female. For many, just getting an education is a real struggle, major decisions such as who to marry and when to have children are made for them by others, and without economic independence or a say in their own future the chances of women escaping the poverty trap are virtually non-existent."

The result of her work, along with many other very dedicated people, is the EQUALS coalition, a group of 30 leading charities and arts organizations that together, aim to re-open debate and discussion about equality, plus act as a catalyst for positive change.

A global hub for sharing International Women's Day

As such, and this year, there is much more information available online. Of particular note is the global online hub for sharing International Women’s Day news, events and resources. And the site’s theme says it all – Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.

The IWD site highlights the power of women on a global scale. It recognizes achievements, regardless of divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. And it is a place to go for looking back on past struggles, or for looking ahead to the unrealized potential for all girls and women.

A Little Herstory

In 1910, Clara Zetkin, the leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. The proposal received unanimous assent from over one hundred women representing seventeen countries.

The first International Women’s day was held March 19 the following year. Meetings and protests were held across Europe, with the largest street demonstration attracting 30,000 women. The day sparked great public debate, and advocates drew attention to the absolute necessity of extending the right of women to vote and to make governments more accountable and democratic. In 1913, IWD was changed to March 8th, and has been held on this day ever since.

The Canadian Connection

In Canada, this year's theme for International Women's Day and International Women's Week celebrates women's roles in the economic prosperity of rural, remote and Northern regions.

Canada is home to 17.4 million women and girls and contains more than 5,400 communities —of which, approximately 5,200 are rural, remote or Northern.

During the week of March 8, 2012, Canadians are celebrating the three million women and girls across every province and territory that are integral to life in these rural, remote and Northern communities.

In rural and remote areas, women make up approximately 45 per cent of the labour force, but significant gaps still exist between women and men in labour participation rates, employment rates and income. These trends are more pronounced for Aboriginal women, who make up a large part of the rural, remote and Northern population.

Women and girls are contributing to economic prosperity in these regions through innovative projects such as business networks and training in non-traditional occupations. Leadership initiatives for women and girls in rural and remote areas can also be found across the country.

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