100th International Women's Day: Aid Community Beefs Up Drive For Equality

Through a pilot project by the Ganta Concerned Women's Group, women in Liberia's Tonglewin village get to learn how to read and do basic math. Gender equality remains a hot button issue 100 years since the international community designated March 8 as Women's Day. Photo by: Christopher Herwig / United Nations

What was once a fervent ambition is now a cornerstone of global development. A hundred years ago, the world commemorated the first International Women’s Day, when women’s empowerment was perhaps an unorthodox idea. Today, gender equality and women’s rights are on top of the international development agenda, considered as primary drivers of growth.

As the world marks the 100th International Women’s Day today (March. 8), Devex gives a rundown of what the aid community is doing to advance women’s empowerment.

African Development Bank

The African Development Bank on March 8 established a scholarship fund to support girls’ education. AfDB President Donald Kaberuka pledged to “personally contribute to the funding” of the AfDB Women’s Network Scholarship fund.

Asian Development Bank

Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda on March 8 committed to promote gender equity in the bank’s operations, and improve inclusiveness and gender balance among ADB staff.  


The Australian government will team up with the World Young Women’s Christian Association to help young women in Asia and the Pacific become future leaders. Australia will contribute AU$500,000 over two years to the World YWCA’s Power to Change Fund, which has already provided training to young women in health, politics and microfinance in the Solomon Islands, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd said today.


Belgian Minister for Development Cooperation Olivier Chastel on March 8 called for improving the living conditions of rural women in the developing world. Rural women, Chastel said, often have little access and fewer rights to land, water or funding.


Aid group Care released Monday a report on the top 10 myths that have hampered women’s empowerment over the past century. The report also features women who helped to debunk some female stereotypes, including scientist Marie Curie and tennis star Billie Jean King.

Concern Worldwide

Humanitarian group Concern Worldwide on March 8 called for gender inequality and more opportunities for girls and women. A research by Concern and the International Food Policy Research Institute reveals that equalizing women’s status would reduce the number of malnourished children by 13.4 million in South Asia and by 1.7 million in sub-Saharan Africa.

European Parliament

The European Parliament has adopted three resolutions that addresses issues faced by women in the European Union. The first one seeks to narrow the gender pay gap in the European Union, raise the female employment rate and put more women in key decision-making positions while the second calls for a reform of macroeconomic, labor-market and social policies to better address poverty among women in the block. In the third resolution, the European Parliament underlined the need for equal access to health care systems and affordable health care. 

European Union

European Union development commissioner Andris Piebalgs will unveil tomorrow (March 9) a gender drawing contest aimed at raising awareness on the plight of women in developing nations. He will also launch a joint EU-U.N. photo exhibition in Timor-Leste that features women’s rights. 

European Commission

European Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso said on March 8 that women should be at the “heart” of the transition processes for democracy including in North Africa, which is currently in chaos because of political revolts.

Food and Agriculture Organization

With equal access to farm inputs, rural women can help to increase agricultural production to levels that could feed up to 150 million more of the world’s hungry people, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization argues. Agricultural yields on plots cultivated by women are lower than those managed by men because women do not have equal access to capital, according to the report released on Monday. 

Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, and Union for International Cancer Control

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization and the Union for International Cancer Control today called for the rapid introduction of an anti-cancer vaccine. The two organizations are urging increased access to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines that can help to immunize women against cervical cancer.

International Committee of the Red Cross

The International Committee of the Red Cross on Monday urged government and other entities to bolster their efforts to prevent rape and other forms of sexual violence against women in conflict zones. States should put in place domestic legislation to prosecute and punish perpetrators of sexual violence against women.

International Labor Organization

The International Labor Organization’s International Training Center is holding a tailor-made campus course on poverty reduction and women’s empowerment for gender advocates from Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Togo, Benin and Senegal. The project follows an online training in gender issues.

Jesuit Refugee Service

The Jesuit Refugee Service today called on the Ugandan and South Sudanese governments to enforce laws on protecting women’s economic, social and political rights including the right to property, or the right to participation in governance and public affairs. The group says women play a vital role in conflict resolution and peace building.

U.K. Department for International Development

The U.K. Department for International Development unveiled today its new strategy for women’s empowerment. The plan focuses on four areas: delaying first pregnancy and supporting safe childbirth, securing incomes and rights for girls and women, getting girls through secondary school, and preventing violence against girls and women.

U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan

To further advance the rights of Afghan women, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan will focus its efforts this year on human rights protection and promotion, sub-national governance and the rule of law, and sustainable livelihoods, the global agency’s special representative to the Islamic nation, Staffan de Mistura, said in a March 7 statement. The U.N. will also target peace building, and maternal and newborn health to help improve living conditions in Afghanistan.

U.N. Development Program

Investing in women and girls plays a key role in realizing the Millennium Development Goals. This was a key finding in the agency’s international assessment of what it will take to achieve the MDGs. Empowered women can help to break the cycle of poverty, “not only for themselves, but for their families, communities, and countries too,” UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said in a statement.

U.N. Foundation and U.N. Women

U.N. Foundation Chief Executive Officer Kathy Calvin and U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or U.N. Women, Executive Director Michelle Bachelet will meet this week with Liberian women and girls to learn firsthand how the development community can help women in the African nation succeed. Gender equality, Bachelet said in a statement, is a “global agenda.” U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said the creation of U.N. Women underscores the global agency’s “intent to deepen our pursuit” of women’s empowerment. 

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on March 8 pushed for greater access to education and training for forcibly displaced women and girls worldwide.

U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime launched March 8 a new fund aimed at supporting groups helping victims of human trafficking. The fund is part of the UNODC-managed U.N. Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking that provides humanitarian, legal and financial aid for human trafficking victims.


UNICEF launched Monday (March 7) its 2011 funding appeal worth $1.4 billion to help children and women caught in crises. This year’s funding request, which represents a 21 percent increase from 2010 levels, will primarily address the needs of women and children in disaster-ravaged nations Pakistan and Haiti.

U.S. Agency for International Development

The U.S. Agency for International Development said March 8 it will update its Women in Development policy in the months to come to help provide new guidance on integrating gender equality and female empowerment initiatives into project designs and country strategies. This is the first update of the policy since 1982.

U.S. State Department

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs on Monday launched the 100 Women Initiative, a year-long series of events that will bring 100 female leaders from 92 countries to the U.S. For three weeks, the 100 women will take part in activities including meetings with senior U.S. government officials and local community leaders. The women will go to U.S. cities such as Des Moines, New York, New Orleans and San Francisco, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  The State also recognized this year’s 10 winners of the International Women of Courage awards.

World Bank

World Bank President Robert Zoellick said March 8 that the bank’s 2012 World Development Report will focus on gender equality in development. He pledged to help further mainstream women’s empowerment into the bank’s operations, adopting the mantra, “gender equality is smart economics.”

World Vision

Christian aid group World Vision is seeking donations for its program that helps provide loans to women entrepreneurs. Through the website WorldVisionMicro.org, struggling women entrepreneurs in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe can access microloans to help expand their businesses.

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About the author

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    Ma. Rizza Leonzon

    As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.