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International Women’s Day, 2021
Celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8, 2021 AD – What are We Waiting For?

The following opinion piece is part of series to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day, March 8.

BONN, Mar 5 2021 (IPS) - Every year on March 8, the International Women’s Day is commemorated. What do women think about this famous anniversary, first honored 1911 in European countries? As I cannot speak for other women, I share with you my personal reflections on this special day, bringing in a developmental perspective.

Dr. Heike Kuhn

Working in development, I have always been astonished that half of the world’s population, girls and women, are being described as a vulnerable group. Just imagine: out of about 7.8 billion people living around the globe, 3.9 billion are female. In many countries, women are guaranteed equal rights for decades by law, but the reality is different – why is that?

Women face many obstacles in their cycle of life, starting when a baby is born; in some remote areas girls do not get a birth certificate, a document anchoring fundamental rights. Coming to education, a girl is often confronted with a situation that an investment in her education seems less interesting to their parents than investing in the education of her brothers, because she will marry, look after the household and care for children or the elders of the family. Unfortunately, this kind of attitude is still prevailing in many places worldwide.

If girls are attending school in a so-called underdeveloped country, they could be confronted with missing sanitary equipment, which is of utmost importance for them, once they start menstruating and needing a safe and hygienic place. Under COVID-19, the situation has worsened, as schools were closed and remote learning is not possible without the devices or even electricity. Many girls are expected not to return to their books, becoming child laborers or brides or giving birth to several children at an early age.

But even once education is completed with a diploma or even a Ph.D., their chances on the labor market are less favorable than the men’s chances. Even when discrimination is legally forbidden, young women face job interviews in their twenties or early thirties and have to learn that employers are reluctant to hire them because they could get pregnant soon, preferring a male candidate.

However, if a young woman got the job by showing her talents, when she chooses parenthood and needs to work part-time due to the care required for her child, her career opportunities may end quite soon without flexibility.

As a childless woman she may still face the same situation where her male colleagues get promoted and earn much higher wages than she does. For years, she had seen that those men at the top preferred to remain within their traditional networks when it came to meetings, festivities, leisure time – a glass ceiling so hard to overcome if you cannot enter the places men attend.

And where are we now, 2021 AD – what did the world achieve to this date with this attitude still dominating our societies? My personal opinion: first of all we did miss so many talents by not unleashing the potential of girls and women. Terrifyingly, that we have been doing this for centuries!

But there is hope: 40 years after declaring March 8 as International Women’s Day in 1975, the UN adopted the Resolution on “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” in 2015.

Nowadays, a stand-alone goal calls all of us to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” (SDG 5), asking i.a. for ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere, eliminate harmful practices such as child marriage and FGM, recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work and ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life by 2030.

Evidence is calling for a different attitude: The social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women are recognized in many fields, so the struggle for equality should come to an end and women’s human rights – the same as men’s by the way – are to be respected everywhere.

On economics, there is strong evidence that societies boost when barriers to women’s economic activities are lifted.

Regarding peace negotiations, we have evidence that peace will last longer if women are among those negotiating the content of the peace talks.

Just reflect on climate change: it was Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish girl, asking the right questions and confronting leaders with scientific data, summoning them to walk the talk.

Finally, in the ongoing COVID-19 crisis we have seen testimonies of the huge share in combatting the pandemics – women working as medical doctors, nurses, teachers, looking after children and elders at home or just finding the vaccine as Professor Özlem Türeci from Biontech here in Germany did.

In conclusion: We can do better ! Together all of us, everywhere, could come to more inclusive decisions, striving for global gender equality. Girls and women must participate when decisions are being made. Recovering from COVID-19 more equally therefore it is a great chance. It is up to us letting this promise in humanity start !

The author is Head of Division 413, Education, BMZ, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Federal Republic of Germany


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alexander khalifman