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Step It Up For Gender Equality

Step It Up For Gender Equality

Photo above is of Walther Lichem, former Austrian Ambassador, President of IPS.

By Ambassador Walther Lichem

VIENNA, Austria, Mar 7 2016 (IPS) – In 1911, more than one million men and women attended rallies to commemorate the first International Women’s Day. Demonstrators advocated for an end to gender discrimination and for the promotion of women’s rights to work, vote, receive an education, and hold public office.

A century later, there is a rising recognition of the special role and capacities women in leadership provide for enhanced societal cohesion, community and peace. Women are becoming the bearers of horizontally structured interactions in partnership against still prevailing vertical patterns of command, leadership and conflict. As we enter this International Women’s Day we have to recognize that we have made great strides in women’s empowerment but still face continued marginalization of women in public space and significant gender inequality.

While the percentage of women in parliament has nearly doubled in the last two decades, this translates to only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians.

In most countries, women earn 60 to 75 per cent of men’s wages and must shoulder a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work.

The fight for women’s equality and justice does not end in the public arena; we must continue to protect women’s rights in the private sphere. No longer can we consider violence against women a personal issue. Over one third of women worldwide are victims of physical or sexual violence, usually by an intimate partner. Hundreds of millions of women and girls are subjected to cultural practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage.

Promoting the rights of all women is at the heart of sustainable development agenda, recently adopted by the international community at the United Nations in New York in 2015.

If half of humanity continues to face systematic discrimination and oppression, the potential for sustainable development including societal cohesion and peaceful interactions will remain similarly limited in scope.

To eradicate poverty and hunger, promote global sustainability, and foster peaceful societies, women must be empowered to join the processes of interaction and leadership.

This begins with education. In a world where sixteen million girls will never begin school compared to eight million boys, the Sustainable Development goals are simply unachievable.

We cannot begin to do the work for all people and our planet until women are offered the opportunities to realize their potential and contribute to development efforts.

Women’s voices must be heard through political leadership, through free press, and through social and economic empowerment.

We are all called to join the conversation on women’s rights and empowerment – not as men and boys or women and girls, but as global citizens seeking a more peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world for all.

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