Oasis Living Magazine, March 01, 2011
International Women’s Day (IWD), on the 8th of March, is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is an occasion to reflect on the past struggles and achievements of women and to inspire women to look towards future opportunities. IWD is considered important enough in some countries to merit a national holiday. This includes China, Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. While there is a growing awareness of IWD, many people may not know how or why it evolved.
According to the United Nations, IWD emerged from the activities of labor movements in North America & Europe in the early 1900s. In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding better working conditions in the garment industry. Two years later, at the International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day–a women’s day–to press their demands. The following year, IWD was honored for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. More than 1 million women and men attended the IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, to vote, to be trained, and to hold public office. In 1913 this grew even further when Russia and the rest of Europe joined in the movement.
Since then, IWD has grown to become a global day of celebration across the world. The United Nations designated 1975 as “International Women’s Year” to gain further publicity for the movement. Since then, women’s organizations and governments around the world have observed IWD by organizing events to inspire women and to celebrate their achievements.
The United Arab Emirates is a relatively young country. There is a growing awareness of women’s roles in modern society. Although the UAE is generally regarded as a patriarchal society, there are a wide range of career opportunities for Emirati women. Sheikha Lubna is one example of a woman taking a leading role in politics, business and inspiring young women. She was recently named the Arab world’s most powerful woman by Forbes magazine.
Furthermore, young Emirati women have an array of choices and opportunities:
Emirati women represent 25% of the workforce today, compared to 9.6% in 1985. (1)
The UAE has the highest rate of females in higher education in the world at 77%. (1)
Entrepreneurship is a growing trend with 11,000 Emirati businesswomen now supporting the UAE’s economy. (2)
International Women’s Day Contributing to a Better World
International Women’s Day is an excellent time to reflect and appreciate the opportunities that some of us have been blessed with. I’m fortunate to have been born in Canada, and I’m grateful for the barriers that my mother and grandmothers broke through to make life better for the women of my generation. I’m also aware that if I was born in a developing country under different circumstances?where it’s difficult to find clean water, food, a regular income, and a safe environment?my life would have taken a different pathway.
In the nineteenth and twentiethcenturies, women achieved significant progress in the developed world; however, this is not the case in the developing world. “Despite many international agreements
affirming their human rights, women are still much more likely than men to be poor and illiterate. They usually have less access than men to medical care, property ownership, credit, training and employment. They are far less likely than men to be politically active and far more likely to be victims of domestic violence.” (3)
International Women’s Day is an ideal time to think about those women in the world who are in these situations. In such an interconnected world, it is now much easier to know how other women in the world are living and the issues that they face. The internet, mobile phones and social networking can bring us all closer together. This creates an opportunity for us to help women, especially since there are a wide range of organizations that help facilitate this support from a distance.
Personal Perspective We Can All Help
From a personal perspective, although I sometimes feel helpless, I take comfort in knowing that I actively educate myself on the current problems affecting females around the world, and I do my little bit by supporting various charities. My favorite charities include: Kiva (www.kiva.org), Girl Effect (www. girleffect.org) and Heal Africa (www. healafrica.org). However, there are many other interesting organizations to support women who need help.
It’s important to identify what fits with your values and your budget. I prefer to support organizations that work at the grass roots level, where administration fees are minimal and a larger proportion of my money is used directly “on the ground.” Whether you contribute a large sum of money or a small amount, it all helps. When I have spare cash, I contribute more. When things are a bit tight, I can still contribute something that fits my budget.
I’m a firm believer in educating girls and empowering women. I feel this is the way to improve the conditions within whole communities. Greg Mortenson, who is one of my heroes, explains it very well in his book Three Cups of Tea, in which he quotes an African proverb: “Educate a boy, and you educate an individual. Educate a girl, and you educate a community.”
If we educate a girl, there is more chance that she will stay healthy, have less chances of contracting HIV, will marry later, have better job opportunities and earning potential. Furthermore, “It is a recognized fact that women who earn income spend more on their families then men do” (4). Helping women to become educated and to find work is an excellent way to break the cycle of poverty.
International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on the achievements of the women in your own country and within the UAE. We’ve come a long way and we should be thankful for that. However, for all women to shine to their highest potential, we still have work to do. We can support and empower women all around the world if we want
to. International Women’s Day is an excellent time to think globally and reflect on how we can support women less fortunate than us.
1. Moore, Lynda. 2008. “Voices of UAE Women Business Leaders: Research in Progress.” Zayed University and Simmons School of Management (US).
2. Swan, Melanie. 05.05.10. The National. “Women Urged to Pursue Research Careers.”
3. United Nations Population Fund. 2010. www.unfpa.org/gender/ empowerment.htm
4. Degnan Kabou, Sarah. 30.07.10. “Women in Developing Countries: Sowing the Seeds for the Future.”