On International Women’s Day, Still a Long Way to Go

Women’s rights advocates, governments, NGOs and women around the world marked International Women’s Day yesterday, with cheers for progress achieved and calls for even more global efforts to ensure protection for the rights of women and girls.

“Most girls now receive an education, particularly at primary level, and more women are now more likely to run businesses or participate in government. A growing number of countries have legislation that supports sexual and reproductive health and promotes gender equality,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his International Women’s Day 2010 message. “Nonetheless, much work remains. Maternal mortality remains unacceptably high, too few women have access to family planning, and violence against women remains a cause for global shame.”

Virtually every sign of progress continues to be mixed, with some bitter disappointments for women’s rights activists. Perhaps there is no better example than India, where equality efforts are in a constant battle against stereotypes and traditional gender-based biases.

The Indian Parliament considered legislation on Monday that would reserve one-third of seats at the national and state levels for women, on the same day that Air India launched its first-ever all-women crews on several flights. The legislative efforts stalled, however, over critics’ concerns that all women — not just those from higher castes — be represented.

At the same time, India and neighboring China are “missing” 85 million women who have died as a result of violence, neglect, infanticide or gender-specific abortions, the United Nations Development Program said in a report released yesterday. This sobering reality has left large swathes of Asia contending with severely skewed gender ratios.

More generally, worldwide maternal mortality rates have remained largely stagnant in the last 15 years, and 70 percent of women worldwide will experience gender-related violence during their lifetimes, according to the U.N. (.pdf).

“Investing in the potential of the world’s women and girls is one of the surest ways to achieve global economic progress, political stability and greater prosperity for women — and man — the world over,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a videotaped message.

New York Times journalist and best-selling author Nicholas Kristoff argued yesterday that the world needs more cost-effective solutions for the broad range of issues facing women. His suggestions include increased efforts toward education and more support for female business owners.

International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911, and is now recognized around the world as an opportunity to celebrate achievements by women.

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