Equality Costs World Women's Day Is About More Than Wishing

by Glen Pearson

So how does this work again exactly? On this, World Women's Day 2017, the cry for full rights for women and girls has likely reached higher and farther than at any other time in history. It is becoming increasingly difficult to call for women's rights domestically without also stretching farther to make women's lives better globally. Consider just a few statistics from DoSomething.org:

  • Every 90 seconds, a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth. Most of these deaths are preventable, but due to gender-based discrimination many women are not given the proper education or care they need.
  • As many as 1 in 4 women experience physical or sexual violence during pregnancy. Take a stand and collect cell phones to benefit domestic violence programs. Sign up for Cell Phones for Survivors.
  • Women make up 80% of all refugees and displaced people. Instruments of genocide such as sexual violence and rape are often directed at women and girls.
  • Women are seldom included in formal peace processes. Women are usually not represented among decision-makers and military leaders, the usual participants in these processes.
  • As of January 2012, women held 15.1% of all presiding officer posts in governments the world.
  • More than 16.4 million women in the world have HIV/AIDS.
  • The US government estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 victims (mostly women and children) are trafficked globally each year, and 14,500 to 17,500 are trafficked into the US.
  • Women account for 70% of the population living in absolute poverty (on less than $1.00 a day).
  • Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18.
  • 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered a crime.

It is now a reality that the will to do something regarding women's justice and equality is reaching farther than even last year. And yet the same time as this is happening, governments around the world are reducing foreign development spending - much of which has been specifically targeted at assisting women and girls across the globe.

Consider America, where President Trump has said he was sharply increase defence spending. Okay, but then he goes on to say that he will "sharply reduce" foreign aid spending. It's a mindless policy, devoid of mounds of recent data showing that investing in women's development - education, healthcare, land ownership, entrepreneurship, political empowerment, legal protections - leads to regions becoming safer and more secure. Anybody can figure that out, so why then are we walking away from women in challenging situations at the same as we celebrate them on this particular day?

Development funds don't just help women and their families; they also keep the peace, pull communities back from conflict, and open windows to new political possibilities. When John Kennedy was president, he made a well-publicized note of the reality that foreign aid, which today amounts to less than 1% of President Trump's budget, "is as important dollar for dollar as any expenditure for national defence itself."

We all get this truth. And since we do, one of our primary tasks as an enlightened civilization is to insist that our governments and citizens not only proclaim the right for women to better lives, but that we prioritize our commitment through investing in their condition. And it's not all about governments and citizens. Companies and corporations have to reduce their reliance on cheap labour - both at home and globally.

We can hope all we want, but hope costs, and it's time we started paying for true equality instead of just wishing for it. We are getting closer each year to comprehending that truth, but it will only set all of us free when we sacrifice for it.

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Glen Pearson
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Photo Credit: UNICEF

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