“Countries with higher levels of gender equality have higher economic growth. Companies with more women on their boards have higher returns. Peace agreements that include women are more successful. Parliaments with more women take up a wider range of issues – including health, education, anti-discrimination, and child support.”
– Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General
On March 8, The Hunger Project joins billions of people around the world to celebrate International Women’s Day to honor women around the world, reflect on progress made, call for change and celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!”
This year, International Women’s Day highlights the 20-year mark since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic declaration signed by 189 governments in 1995 that set the agenda for realizing women’s rights. There has been much progress made since then, but many critical gaps remain. This day underscores the need to not only uphold women’s achievements, but to also spotlight challenges and mobilize the global community to focus on women’s rights to bring about gender equality for all.
Two decades ago, an unprecedented 17,000 participants and 30,000 activists met in Beijing for the opening of the Fourth World Conference on Women. The group was incredibly diverse, but the goal they sought was clear-cut: gender equality and the empowerment of all women everywhere. The Hunger Project was honored to be in attendance.
In Beijing, representatives from 189 governments agreed upon commitments that were historic; what came out of the conference was the most progressive blueprint for advancing women’s rights to date: the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The Platform for Action demands a world in which women and girls are treated as equals; a world in which her rights are realized and she lives a life free from violence, she has the opportunity to go to school and she earns equal pay for equal work.
Today, 20 years later, governments, civil society and the public have translated the Platform for Action’s pledges into concrete changes in individual countries, which have brought about improvements for tens of millions of women. More women and girls than at any previous point in history now serve in political offices, are protected by laws against gender-based violence and live under constitutions guaranteeing gender equality.
Yet, no country has finished the agenda that the Platform for Action decreed. Women earn less than men and are more likely to work in poor-quality jobs. A third will suffer physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Gaps in reproductive rights and health care leave 800 women dying in childbirth each day.
In the developing world, gender inequality is even more acute. While women are the primary providers of food security for their families and communities, the majority of women endure conditions of economic and social marginalization and they continue to account for more than 60 percent of the world’s hungry. They are less likely to attend school than men. They have less access to credit, agricultural extension services and land ownership. They have little, if any, voice in decision-making.
The 20th anniversary of Beijing opens new opportunities to reconnect, renew commitment, mobilize civil society and garner political will. Everyone has a role to play—for our common good. Indeed, studies show that when women are supported and empowered, all of society benefits. When women have equal access to education, and participate fully in decision-making, they are the key driving force against hunger and poverty. Women with equal rights are better educated, healthier, and have greater access to land, jobs and financial resources. Their increased earning power in turn raises household incomes. By enhancing women’s control over decision-making in the household, gender equality also translates into better prospects and greater well-being of children, reducing poverty of future generations. In short, communities become more resilient.
Empowering women and girls is also critical to ending hunger, extreme poverty and malnutrition around the world. Data shows that countries that empower women tend to see lower rates of stunting (low height for age), the primary measure of chronic undernutrition.
The Hunger Project firmly believes that empowering women to be key change agents is an essential element to achieving the end of hunger and poverty. Wherever we work, our programs aim to support women and build their capacity. Women’s Leadership Workshops in India, a Women’s Empowerment Program throughout Africa and specialized animator trainings worldwide empower women to seek positions of leadership and train all of our partners, women and men, to take responsibility for improving lives in their communities.
On March 8, around the world, thousands of Hunger Project partners, staff, volunteers, investors and activists will join in International Women’s Day celebrations to shine a spotlight on the importance of demanding equality for women. Join us.