There is no denying that this past year has been been one filled with both encouraging highs and demoralizing lows for girls and women all over the world.
As we prepare for the sixty-second session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the annual two-week meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York focused on gender equality and girls and women’s rights, we thought, like us, you might have a few questions, such as: When did International Women’s Day begin? What started the Commission on the Status of Women? What changed in the last year? What is set to be implemented and discussed this year, and how can we get involved?
The Commission will take place from March 12-23, 2018, and will focus on the priority theme of the rights and empowerment of rural women. To learn more, we interviewed Michelle Milford Morse, Vice President, Girls and Women Strategy, at the United Nations Foundation, to answer these questions.
When did International Women’s Day begin?
International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated around the world and recognizes all women for their important contributions to society and their achievements. IWD first emerged from the activities of labor movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe. The original celebration, which took place on February 28th, 1909 in the United States, was in honor of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York. This strike was coordinated by women and focused on advocating for safer working conditions and living wages.
Since it’s first celebration, International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in rich and poor countries alike. While there is one owner of IWD, it has become a meaningful time of year for the United Nations. The international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by global United Nations women’s conferences at, for example, Beijing and Cairo, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and their full participation in the political, social and economic arenas.
What is the United Nations Foundation theme for Women’s Day this year?
The United Nations Foundation is utilizing the theme “Hidden Figures,” which will highlight how much gender inequality costs us as a society and what we stand to gain if the potential of girls and women is truly unlocked.
What is the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)?
The CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Every year in March representatives for Member States of the United Nations, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector gather at the UN as Member States negotiate an agreement on further actions to accelerate progress and promote women’s enjoyment of their rights in political, economic and social fields.
The first CSW took place in February 1947, soon after the founding of the United Nations, at Lake Success, New York, and on that occasion all 15 government representatives were women. From its inception, the Commission was supported by a unit of the United Nations that later became the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) in the UN Secretariat. The Commission served as the preparatory body for the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, which adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. CSW now continues to monitor the implementation of this resolution, as well as the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals.
How are women progressing internationally? What has changed in the past year?
Despite a few improving indicators in the areas of education, political representation, legal protection and labor participation, globally gender inequality still prevails. According to World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, it will take 100 years to close the gap between women and men, which is 17 years longer than the previous estimate. The findings in this year’s report show a widening of the gender gap across all four of the report’s pillars: Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, Economic Opportunity and Political Empowerment
Meanwhile, UNFPA’s 2017 State of the World’s Population report finds that 68 countries had larger gender gaps in 2016 than in 2015. A recent UN Women report finds that while globally women are a little bit more likely to live in extreme poverty than men, women between the ages of 25 and 34 – key reproductive, child-rearing and income-generating years – are 22 percent more likely than men to live in extreme poverty.
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How can we get involved?
- First, for activists in the New York area, there are more than 330 side events and a number of parallel events that happen outside of the UN that cover a broad range of topics. Many welcome attendances by all stakeholders.
- Second, In the U.S., Women’s History Month will be celebrated throughout the month of March. Join in a commemoration in your local community and help spread the word online about women who have and are making history.
- Third, there are multiple ways to add your voice to the chorus of those demanding gender equality and rights and dignity for all girls and women. Consider sharing the UN Foundation’s informative messaging for International Women’s Day and beyond, or sharing your own reasons for supporting gender equality and the lives of girls and women.