International Women’s Day 2018

Tomorrow, March 8, is International Women’s Day 2018. This year’s theme is #PressForProgress with an emphasis on pressing for progress on gender parity. The International Women’s Day website presents a strong call-to-action and gives many specific suggestions. Here are some that caught my attention:

  • question assumptions about women
  • challenge statements that limit women
  • always use inclusive language
  • work to remove barriers to women’s progress
  • buy from retailers who position women in positive ways
  • assume women want opportunities until declined
  • select women as spokespeople and leaders
  • support visible women
  • supportively call-out inappropriate behaviour
  • be a role model for equality
  • ensure credit is given for women’s contributions
  • celebrate women role models and their journeys
  • support awards showcasing women’s success

While these are all well and good, I question whether or not the “international” in International Women’s Day is being forgotten. I question whether these actions will make much difference to our sisters in parts of the world where girls are still forced to undergo female genital mutilation. Will they help the estimated 21 million unwanted girls in India, who often get less nourishment and schooling than their brothers? Will they help the 29 women recently arrested in Iran for protesting the obligatory Muslim headscarf by taking theirs off in public? Will they help the thousands of girls and women in Africa and Asia who walk an average of 6 kilometres a day to collect clean water for their households? Will they do anything for those who are the victims of human trafficking?

I’m not saying that life is perfect for women in the first world. The #MeToo movement has made it abundantly clear that we need to confront the widespread issue of sexual assault and harassment and there is no doubt that we need to continue addressing the issue of equal pay for equal work, but compared to women in much of the world, most of us have it pretty easy.

What, then, can we do to press for progress for women whose lives are so much more difficult than ours? First of all, we need to educate ourselves, to look beyond our comfortable lives and become aware of what the issues are and which reputable organizations are working to change them. If you’re serious about wanting to have an impact on the lives of women around the world, I would suggest that you begin by reading Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Kristof and WuDunn are upfront and clear; they hope to recruit their readers to get involved, to become a part of a movement to emancipate and empower women by helping provide the economic resources that can help transform brothel slaves into businesswomen. All too often, money in the hands of men goes to alcohol and prostitution but in the hands of women, it nurtures children, feeds families and promotes education. Half the Sky not only inspires the reader to get involved, it gives many suggestions how.

It was after reading Half the Sky that I began making micro loans to women in third world countries through Kiva, the world’s first online micro-lending platform. Kiva is a non-profit organization that allows a person to lend as little as $25 to a specific low-income entrepreneur in one of 83 countries around the world. When a loan is repaid, the money can be withdrawn or used to fund a new loan. Since making my first loan eight years ago, I have made a total of 44 loans to women in 19 different countries. To watch Kiva’s 59 second video marking International Women’s Day, click here.

What will you do to press for progress this International Women’s Day?

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