Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Women’s Day Marks Both Oppression and Liberation

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Saturday,  March 6 / 10

Zack Gross

March 8th is International Women’s Day. 

This is an opportunity to consider the challenges that have faced women’s equity and equality over the centuries and to celebrate gains made in recent times.

 There is still much to be done.  Despite annual activities to mark IWD and steps being taken around the globe through policy development and community projects, women still face low pay and unfair working conditions, family and sexual violence, and a lack of opportunity in the political arena.

There is no country on Earth where women have achieved equality with men.  Seventy percent of the poorest people on our planet (the bottom 1.3 billion) are women. 

Eighty percent of the world’s 27 million refugees are women and children.  Of the one billion illiterate adults in the world, two-thirds are women, and two-thirds of the 130 million children not in school are girls. 

While major world conferences, hosted by the United Nations and attended by almost 200 delegations, have been held over the past twenty years, and each has passed numerous resolutions about this situation, these conditions persist.

Around the globe, outside the agricultural sector, women on average earn 75% of what men do.  On top of that, women contribute twice as many hours of unpaid labour as men (household duties).  Some of these realities don’t change in part because women are not well-represented in decision-making bodies. 

For example, women hold only 12% of the world’s parliamentary seats, with the same holding true in business.  Of the two hundred top diplomats to the United Nations, less than 10% are women. 

This is also true, worldwide, for female holding cabinet minister status.  Where women often excel is at being targets of economic exploitation and war-related campaigns of rape. 

The history of women’s rights, in any official sense, begins with Mary Wollstonecraft who published the book, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, in 1792, a radical work that took England by storm in that it linked women’s rights to universal human rights. 

A women’s rights convention in 1848 in New York may have marked the beginning of the suffragist movement and organizations began to spring up around the Western world to support the enhanced place in society of women. 

In 1893, New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote, and it was not until the Twentieth Century and often after World War I, that other countries followed suit. 

In 1970, although the Equal Rights Amendment was finally pushed through the US Congress with a large majority, however it was never ratified.

Today, in many socialist and eastern European and Asian countries, International Women’s Day has replaced Mother’s Day as the official holiday for women, with gifts being given and mothers and grandmothers being honoured. 

IWD is marked around the world with new stamps being issued and events being held, but the place and role of women in traditional societies or in the sweatshops of the world, are still a cause for concern. 

Many countries, in Africa, Asia and the Middle East have laws against abortion or diverse sexual orientation, or have no effective laws regarding sexual harassment, trafficking and slavery.

Women’s groups continue to oppose the body image of women used in advertising and other parts of the media.  At the recent Closing Ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympic Games, scantily clad female RCMP officers in a dance-and-song routine drew jeers from feminist observers. 

After all, the Olympics should be a testament to the strength, courage and equality of the sexes.  But, this was supposed to be a spoof on Canadian stereotypes, so maybe it was actually making fun of sexists!

Where would we be without our mothers?  It is time for the world to focus on the special challenges that make women’s lives difficult. 

Partly, men must share equal power with women, making sure that equal representation is not just a goal, but a regulated reality. 

Men must also share their wealth, making sure that women have the opportunity to earn a fair and dignified livelihood. 

These kinds of actions should enrich and empower us all.


Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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