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International Women's Day: Our Day Will Come

On International Women’s Day, we are pleased to feature the opinions of Gaellen Quinn, Senior Program Officer at Mona Foundation.


March 08, 2016

Guest Post by Gaellen Quinn

Our Day Will Come

Forty years ago, 193 member states of the United Nations observed International Women’s Year, part of a larger UN program which developed over the Decade of Women (1976–85), and included the drafting of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) ratified by 189 member states.

Twenty years ago, the United Nations began celebrating an annual International Women’s Day on March 8th. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, an historic roadmap signed by 189 governments, envisioned a world where women and girls could exercise choices, such as participation in governance, getting an education, making an income, and living in societies free from violence and discrimination.

Thirteen years ago, one of the eight United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), MDG3, was for all member states to promote gender equality and empower women. The specific target was to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005 and at all levels of education by 2015. The deadline for the Millennium Development Goals ended at 2015 and that goal was not achieved.

Just about all the issues needed to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment were left out of MDG3 and the goal only called on leaders to promote equality not actually realize it. Key issues overlooked by the goal included: eliminating violence against women; recognizing the unpaid burden of work that falls disproportionately on women; women’s limited access to assets and resources, such as land; protecting women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights; ending harmful traditional practices, such as early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation; and the vital role women play in peace and conflict reconciliation. The goal also failed to challenge discriminatory laws and constitutions that endorse the view that men are superior to women.

How does MDG3 translate to the new Sustainable Development Goals?

Last year, 193 member states of the UN adopted a new set of global goals – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Unlike its predecessor, MDG3, the sustainable goal addressing women’s empowerment (SDG5) calls on governments to achieve, rather than just promote, gender equality.

Proposed targets include ending violence, eliminating harmful practices, recognizing the value of unpaid work that women do, ensuring that women have full participation – and equal opportunities – in decision-making, and calls for reforms to give women equal access to economic resources. There is also a target to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. While the SDGs are broadly welcomed, and although the proposed goals cannot transform the global economic system that deepens inequalities and discriminates against women, most are glad to see a standalone goal on empowerment with some strong targets set to be accomplished in 15 years.

The canary in the coal mine

However, progress towards gender equality has slowed in many places in the world and forecasters in other sectors predict glacial movement toward that goal. The World Economic Forum calculated in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity – 81 years. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that the increasing slowdown in the already slow pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn't close entirely until 2133 – 118 years – almost another five generations, which means for a girl born today, her great-great granddaughter may finally see the equality of women and men as a foundational principle and practice in every society.

And what’s so ironic about that slow pace of progress toward gender equality (upheld by tradition, policy and inattention) is that research and stories abound which show that the value of equality for women is not about “fairness,” but about the flourishing of society. Research in business has shown that companies where there are more women leaders in the “C-suite” are more profitable. Research in human development has established a strong link between women's education and international development. Women's education is one of the major explanatory variables behind the rates of social and economic development and has been shown to have a positive correlation with both.

Meanwhile back at the grassroots…

Mona Foundation was started in 1999.  We support grass-roots educational initiatives around the world which emphasize service to the community and increased opportunity for women and girls.  

We work in countries around the world and we see the amazing effects women and girls can exert when they have access to education and training in life skills. In one example in central India, marginalized tribal girls from the lowest castes, illiterate, intensely shy, lacking any self-esteem and often considered as unworthy of support or protection, even by their own families, enter an educational program and within six months pass a national literacy test, learn a trade and become committed to community building. They return to their villages as agents of social change, contributing to family income, working to establish literacy programs, women’s health centers, cleanliness drives, convince villagers to adopt sustainable agriculture practices and help to eradicate diseases like guinea worm from hundreds of villages. Their service has elicited admiration from their families and communities, has helped to displace gender and caste prejudices and encouraged many families who would never have considered it to also send their girls to school.

The same kind of social transformation is seen wherever women and girls progress and the effect they have is borne out by research.  If the pace of establishing and upholding women’s equality can speed up, the development and progress of the world can speed up, with benefit accruing to all.

Gaellen Quinn is a Senior Program Officer at Mona Foundation in Kirkland, WA. Mona Foundation is dedicated to support grassroots educational initiatives and raising the status of women and girls around the world. They currently work with 15 projects in eight countries (Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Brazil, Panama, Haiti, India and the U.S) serving more than 75,000 children and their families annually.

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