by Stephanie Seabrooke
March 8th marks International Women’s Day, an annual global public holiday celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day is also used to focus attention on the continuing struggle of women around the world to gain gender equality in all walks of life, including education, employment, and human rights. In fact, the first U.S. Women’s Day, held in 1909, was organized as a mass demonstration against the horrific working conditions of city factories, which mostly employed young women. Since then, International Women’s Day has been a vehicle for change on a variety of issues including suffrage, job discrimination, and the right to hold public office. The holiday was officially adopted by the United Nations in 1975 and is currently observed in over 100 countries with a changing theme every year.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “think equal, build smart, innovate for change,” and it centers on how gender equality can be advanced in the 21st century through the widespread adoption of social systems, public services, and sustainable infrastructure. It may seem unfathomable that in 2019, expectant mothers can’t travel to health centers for prenatal care because their town’s roads are unpaved and dangerous, and young girls don’t have access to a quality education because their schools lack reliable electric power. But that’s the reality for millions of women all over the globe, and only by harnessing the power of technology can we improve the lives of marginalized communities and achieve gender equality for all. This means using the latest innovations to provide basic care and services that pave the way for opportunity, such as low cost solar powered lamps installed in schools and hospitals, improved urban planning that includes reliable public transportation, and remotely controlled drones that can deliver medication to remote, rural areas.
While every International Women’s Day has a specific focus, the United Nations also has a long-term list of gender equality goals that it hopes to reach worldwide by 2030. These targets include free, quality primary and secondary education for girls and boys, access to comprehensive healthcare for girls and boys, and the end of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls. And while setting aside an annual holiday to recognize the world’s women is an important way to acknowledge their vast array of contributions, attaining true equality for all requires much more than a single day of celebration. It takes a global commitment to watching our wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters fulfill their potential and achieve their dreams. It means respecting the skills, knowledge, and experience that women offer in every element of society, whether it’s as a business professional, politician, scientist, or caretaker. And it demands support for every woman and girl, everywhere in the world – not just from each other, but from the men who care about them and want them to succeed.