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8 March is International Women’s Day, to continue fighting for gender equality

Despite the abuses of patriarchy, women are rising up to improve their conditions. The origins of International Women’s Day and why we celebrate it.

International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time in 1909 in the United States, held by the country’s Socialist Party, and was formalised at the international level in 1911. Yet, after over a hundred years, women all around the world still face numerous challenges and fight against a patriarchal and sexist system.

Donne egiziane chiedono giustizia
Demonstration of Egyptian women in Cairo against violence carried out by police forces © AP Photo/Amr Nabil

Why we celebrate International Women’s Day

The celebration was recognised by the United Nations in 1977 and aims to condemn all forms of inequality, sexism and violence against women.”Let’s make sure women and girls can shape the policies, services and infrastructure that impact all our lives”, in the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.”And let’s support women and girls who are breaking down barriers to create a better world for everyone”.

The 2019 theme, Think equal, build smart, innovate for change, focuses on innovative ways in which we can advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. The fundamental idea is to accelerate the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals, including ensuring access to education for all boys and girls, ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls, as well as all forms of violence in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation, eliminating all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Scuola africana
130 million girls around the world aren’t in school

Gender inequality today

However, in many countries attitudes remain retrograde and close-minded and power continues to be abused everyday. For example, the global gender pay gap, the difference between the average salaries of men and women, is 23 per cent, according to the UN, defined by Anuradha Seth, special advisor economic to the international body, as “the greatest theft in history”. Some changes are being made though, thanks to those women trying to change their conditions and mould the surrounding world through their ideas, by challenging the status quo and guiding their communities. An example is Berta Caceres, once leader of the Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) who fought for protecting her community’s rights and lands from deforestation and exploitation. Yet she was killed just a few prior to International Women’s Day in 2016.

Berta Caceres, attivista ambientale uccisa in Honduras
Berta Cáceres managed to successfully oppose to the building of the Agua Zarca dam, on Rio Gualcarque in north-western Honduras

Women’s roles are much too underestimated. According to US anthropologist and palaeontologist Nancy Makepeace Tanner, maternal care was the determiner of anthropomorphic apes’ development towards human evolution. Tanner claims that our evolution is ascribable to that fact that mothers used to favour the standing position, in order to hold their cubs with an arm and finding food with the other. The need of feeding offspring led to increased cognitive development, stimulating the capacity of using utensils. Thus, when we look at women, we should remind that – maybe – without them our species wouldn’t existed.

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