Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The women in my life

The world today marks International Women's Day under the theme “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.”

I should know! I’ve been looking for different work long enough!

The struggle by women has gained momentum over the past 100 years. In 1910, at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin (leader of the “Women's Office” for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women's Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day -- a Women's Day -- to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women's clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, unanimously greeted Zetkin's suggestion. The result was International Women's Day.

Mich at the Copenhagen chapter of the 1977 UN event
It was not until 1975, during International Women's Year, that the United Nations began celebrating March 8 as International Women’s Day (IWD). Two years later, in December 1977, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in keeping with their historical and national traditions.

In adopting its resolution on observing Women's Day, the General Assembly cited two reasons: (1) to recognize the fact that securing peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms require the active participation, equality and development of women, and (2) to recognize the contribution of women to the strengthening of international peace and security.

IWD is an occasion to look back at how far women have come in their struggle for equality, peace and development. It is also an opportunity to unite, network and mobilize for change.

After doing some research before writing this post about what International Women’s Day meant to me, my thoughts always returned to background, upbringing, family and education.

I am lucky to have been born into a family where there was no gender prejudice and education was encouraged. Professionally, I have been blessed. Since my first job, I have worked for and with someone who believes in women in the workplace and gave me my first brake in journalism in the 1970s, when women reporters were still a rare breed.

So instead of celebrating the innumerable admirable women around the world who have achieved so much over the years, I would like to cheer and thank those women who are part of my life and have enriched it in so many ways. They are:

With mum Vicky in 1983
My mum Vicky: For being the strong, intelligent and outspoken women that she was. She taught me to have a voice but to be tolerant, understanding and without prejudice. Mom had class, insight, wisdom, courage and humor -- in health and in sickness -- until her last hours. Vicky is still my reference for a great woman, however much I look for one on Google!

My sister Asma: Where to start… She is the voice in my head, my guide, my security blanket, a role model for courage and perseverance, but also for fun and family values. She is someone who works so hard that it puts me and so many others to shame. (See “A tribute to breast cancer survivors,” 1 October 2010)

My friend Zepure: My soulmate, my harbor… (See “Soulmates for life,” 2 November 2010)

My cousin Lillian: For taking over the leadership of the women in the family and being my refuge and cheerleader.

My sister-in-law Sally: For bringing up two wonderful children and then going back to university and becoming a Social Services professional. I continuously admire her courage and determination.

My niece Emma: Although I still think of her as a “little girl,” she has blossomed into a smart, warm, loving and hardworking woman and is successfully climbing the corporate ladder. It helps that, like me, she also supports Chelsea Football Club! (See "Emma's star," 20 August 2010)

I thank you ladies for being who you are and for shining a light on my life.

I also celebrate the talented women I have met in the past year through Social Media platforms Twitter and Facebook. There would be so many to name, but they have also changed my life and taught me so many things, including blogging!

While women have seen significant change and emancipation, there is still a long way to go: 
  • Economic Security: Women perform two-thirds of the world’s work and produce half the world’s food, but earn just 10% of the income and own 1% of the property. (Source: WfWI)
  •  Education: Women make up two-thirds of the world’s 800 million illiterate adults (aged 15 and over). Educate a girl in Africa and she’ll earn 25% more income, be three times less likely to contract HIV or AIDS and have a smaller, healthier family. (Sources: Camfed USA) 
  •  Equality and leadership: Only 28 countries have achieved the 30% target set in the early 1990s for women in decision-making positions. Worldwide, women are paid 17% less, and have less employment security than men. (Source: UNWOMEN) 
  •  Health: 99% of maternal deaths are preventable, but every minute a woman dies from pregnancy-related causes. Worldwide, young women (15-24) are 1.6 times as likely as young men to be HIV positive. Every 14 seconds, another child becomes an orphan because of AIDS-related deaths. (Sources: International Organization for Women Foundation) 
  •  Safety and Security: The abuse of women and girls is endemic around the world. One in three women will be raped, beaten, forced into sex or violated in her lifetime. (Source: UNIFEM)
So, let’s make everyday International Women's Day. Let’s try to do whatever we can to ensure the future for women is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.

And along the way let’s not forget to give thanks and celebrate the men in our lives who help realize these goals.