PARIS: No self-congratulations but calls to action will mark many celebrations of the 40th International Women’s Day on Wednesday, as the fight for equality faces new threats.
Murders of women in Latin America, anti-abortion movements in Europe, and machismo talk from men in power are among the growing concerns that have brought millions of women into the streets of world capitals these past few months to defend their rights.
“March 8 is not only to commemorate suffragettes and to celebrate successes from the past but more to reflect on the present situation,” said Barbara Nowacka, a Polish politician and representative of the committee “Save Women”.
“There is still a lot to do concerning women’s role in the labour market, society, politics,” she told foreign media ahead of the global day highlighting women’s rights started by the United Nations in 1977.
Some recent developments have feminists worried about such key issues as abortion rights, pay equity and gender-based violence.
In Nowacka’s own country, the ruling conservative party is trying to curtail laws on abortion rights, already among the most restrictive in Europe — one of the several signs of rising anti-abortion movements across the continent.
These groups “are uniting, are very present on social media and have political weight,” said Christine Mauget, in charge of international matters at France’s Family Planning agency.
“In 2017, there is still a major problem of machismo,” Mauget added.
“It is difficult to move things forward, but we try to prevent them from going backwards.”
The worries about women’s rights in the face of sexist male attitudes were on display in the huge women’s marches following the inauguration of US President Donald Trump in late January.
Two million women took to the streets in cities around the globe, especially in Washington, where protesters in pink “pussy hats” voiced their opposition to Trump’s policies and his sometimes sexist and vulgar comments about women seen on videotape during the campaign.
Two days after those marches, Trump acted on his anti-abortion stance when, surrounded by male advisors, he signed a decree banning the financing of international charities that support abortions.
“The problem isn’t abortion but unwanted pregnancies,” said Mauget, calling for more extensive sex education to help prevent such circumstances.
When it comes to women’s pocketbooks, the long-running struggle for equal pay still has a way to go.
Worldwide, women earn on average 23 percent less than men. At that pace, it would take 70 years to close the gap, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The statistics are also dire regarding violence against women.
According to the United Nations, about 35 percent of women around the world have been victims of physical or sexual violence. Some 200 million women and girls have been subjected to a form of genital mutilation and 700 million have been married before the age of 18.
All over Latin America in October the movement #NiUnaMenos (“Not one less”) rose up against “femicide” and abuse of women after the brutal murder in Argentina of a teenage girl who was drugged and gang raped.
Ariadna Estevez, a university researcher in Mexico, described the mass women’s movement as “a wake-up call” in the region.
For activists such as Nowacka, the message for women standing up for their rights is: “We feel anger, but we know we are not powerless”.