The time to empower women is now

Smiling women. March 8 is the 101st International Women's Day. Photo by: norhafydzah mahfodz / CC BY

The world celebrates the 101st International Women’s Day on March 8. But how have women’s empowerment and gender equality improved over the past years?

Certainly, there have been advancements. The United States, for instance, has been able to incorporate gender issues in its first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and its Feed the Future and Global Health Initiative foreign aid programs.

Further, the United States, via the Office of Global Women’s Issues, worked with private and nongovernmental organizations to implement initiatives such as the Propelling Women’s Entrepreneurship in Pakistan Mentorship ProgramTechWomen and mWomen. Just this month, the U.S. Agency for International Development launched a gender equality policy that will shape the agency’s work on women’s issues. And on March 9, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce the recipients of the first Innovation Award for the Empowerment of Women and Girls, which called for pioneering approaches to empower women and girls worldwide.

Australia, meanwhile, forged a partnership with Women’s World Banking to boost women’s access to financial services. The country has also been helping advance Afghan girls’ education via its contributions to the World Bank’s Education Quality Improvement Program. Australia has also helped empower women farmers and boost their livelihoods.

“Yet while tremendous progress has been made,” U.N. Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet says in her International Women’s Day message, “no country can claim to be entirely free from gender-based discrimination.”

The African Development Bank says that in the region, girls still lag behind boys when it comes to education and employment. For every 100 boys enrolled, 10 girls aren’t in school. Most women in Africa aren’t gainfully employed either, working in the informal sector for low pay or at home for free.

Women and girls in rural communities have it worse. Although they account for 25 percent of the world’s population, they “routinely figure” at the lower rung of economic, social and political indicator, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at an event commemorating women’s day.

Worldwide, at least half a million women can’t read, 35 million girls aren’t in school and three-fourths of women don’t have access to financial services, the Australian Agency for International Developmentsays.

This is why Arpita Bhattacharyya and Peter Juul from the Center for American Progress are urging the Obama administration to protect foreign aid programs that largely benefit women and girls. They are calling on the administration and its allies to ensure 2013 funding requests for maternal and child health, family planning, and reproductive health aren’t subjected to further cuts at the Congress.

Oxfam’s Sisters on the Planet, a movement working to improve women’s fight against poverty and climate change, will lobby members of Congress so that reforms to the U.S. food aid program are adopted. Doing so will allow food aid to be purchased from women farmers in developing countries and could help lift these women from poverty.

The time to grant women “full and equal participation in the political and economic arena,” Bachelet says, is now.

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About the author

  • Aimee Rae Ocampo

    As former Devex editor for business insight, Aimee created and managed multimedia content and cutting-edge analysis for executives in international development.