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In 1977, the United Nations invited member states to designate 8 March of every year as International Women’s Day (IWD). Events marking IWD are meant to highlight women’s rights and world peace and followed the worldwide observance of the International Year of the Women in 1975.
World over IWD is celebrated as an occasion to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.
However, despite the passage of four decades, the world is nowhere near achieving the ambitious goal of providing all women with their basic rights, nor is it even close to this year’s theme for IWD — ‘Empowering Women - Empowering Humanity: Picture It!’?
The 2015 IWD theme envisions a world where each woman and girl can exercise her choices, such as participating in politics, getting an education, having an income, and living in societies free from violence and discrimination. The truth is that at best what the world can still do is to, ‘picture it’.
Across much of the world, either by law or custom, women are still denied the right to own land or inherit property, obtain access to credit, attend school, earn income and progress in their profession free from job discrimination. Women are also significantly under-represented in decision-making at all levels.
Though women have the potential to change their own economic status and that of their families and communities in which they live, prevailing gender inequalities hamper women’s ability to lift themselves from poverty and secure improved options to improve their lives.
The 2015 IWD is an appropriate time to reflect on the fact that many elements of the historic Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action — the roadmap signed in 1995 by 189 governments which set the agenda for realizing women’s rights — still remain unfulfilled.
No doubt there have been many achievements for women’s rights in the last twenty years, and these should definitely be recognized and celebrated, but there are still large chasms in gender equality that need to be bridged. While the IWD is a time to uphold women’s achievements, it should also be a time to recognize challenges, and focus greater attention on women’s rights and gender equality to mobilize all people to do their part.
The Gender Inequality Index (GII), compiled by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), measures gender inequalities in three important aspects of human development.
• Reproductive health measured by maternal mortality ratio and adolescent birth rates
• Empowerment, measured by proportion of parliamentary seats occupied by females and proportion of adult females and males aged 25 years and older with at least some secondary education
• Economic status expressed as labor market participation and measured by labor force participation rate of female and male populations aged 15 years and older
The GII sheds new light on the position of women in over 150 countries and yields insights in gender gaps in major areas of human development. The index measures the human development costs of gender inequality and show that countries with high gender inequality also experience more unequal distribution of human development.
A higher GII value indicates more disparities between females and males.
The top ten countries in terms of gender equality in 2012 were
Slovenia 1 0.021
Switzerland 2 0.030
Germany 3 0.046
Sweden 4 0.054
Austria 5 0.056
Denmark 5 0.056
Netherlands 7 0.057
Italy 8 0.067
Belgium 9 0.068
Norway 9 0.068
The bottom ten countries in terms of gender equality in 2012 were
Côte d'Ivoire 143 0.645
Central African Republic 144 0.654
Liberia 145 0.655
Mozambique 146 0.657
Congo 147 0.669
Mali 148 0.673
Afghanistan 149 0.705
Chad 150 0.707
Niger 151 0.709
Yemen 152 0.733