Education is 'the best tool' to ensure gender equality

Written by Iratxe García Pérez on 12 March 2015 in Opinion
Opinion

Nearly 100 years after international women’s day was first celebrated, considerable challenges remain, writes Iratxe García Pérez.

The first women's day was held on 28 February 1909 in New York. It was organised by the socialist party of America, in remembrance of the international ladies' garment workers' union strike of 1908. In August of the following year, the second international conference of socialist women was held in Copenhagen, Denmark. 

100 female delegates from 17 countries participated, and it was there that the creation of an annual 'international women's day' (IWD) was proposed. On 19 March 1911, IWD was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

One million people demanded to give women the right to vote, hold public office, work, have access to training and not be discriminated against at work. Unfortunately, a week later more than 140 women were killed when a fire broke out in a textile factory in New York. This horrible event led to changes in

US labour legislation, and women's working conditions became a focus in subsequent IWD events.

"Within the EU, we must eliminate the gender pay and pensions gap, increase the participation of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as in management, government and other political and economic decision making posts"

Americans continued to celebrate national women's day on the last Sunday in February. The same day was chosen in Russia to hold the first IWD in 1913. In 1914, Germany, Sweden and Russia celebrated IWD on 8 March for the first time, most likely because it was a Sunday. 

There had previously been women-led strikes, marches and other protests, but none took place on that day, other than in London where a march was organised in support of women's suffrage. 

In the rest of Europe, women celebrated IWD around this date to protest the war and to show solidarity with other women. On 8 March 1917, Russian women started to strike for 'bread and peace'.

Since its inception within the socialist movement, IWD has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration, in both developed and developing countries. In 1975, the united nations (UN) officially started celebrating IWD on 8 March.

In 1977, the UN general assembly proclaimed 8 March as the international day for women's rights and international peace.

Women's organisations and governments around the world have also commemorated the IWD annually on 8 March by holding large-scale events to celebrate the progress achieved, but also to remind us of all the gaps still to be filled and to stand up for women's rights and gender equality.

Women continue to make less money than men and be discriminated against at work and in their daily life. A lot of the time, they are made to take on much more family and domestic duties than their male counterparts. 

Additionally, they are under-represented in the political and economic spheres and in decision making. 

Many women are still confronted with difficulties to study, are not even free to choose their husband or make their own decisions regarding whether or not to have children. What is worse, they suffer physical and psychological violence, including genital mutilation.

"Education and training of women remains a key priority within the Beijing declaration and platform for action, which will come under review this year, 20 years after its adoption"

This year, the UN and the EU have decided to underline the importance of empowering women and girls through education. Education and training of women remains a key priority within the Beijing declaration and platform for action, which will come under review this year, 20 years after its adoption. 

Despite a greater presence of girls in classrooms in developing countries, their attendance rates are still lower than boys'. Girls are less likely to complete primary education or to progress to secondary education. 

In order to increase the number of young women that follow education programmes, we must address the challenges that remain, including poverty, violence against women, child marriage, teenage pregnancy and discriminatory social and cultural norms and traditions.

Within the EU, we must eliminate the gender pay and pensions gap, increase the participation of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as in management, government and other political and economic decision making posts. 

Moreover, we must achieve a balance between personal and working life and eradicate all forms of violence against women.

I strongly believe education is the best tool to fight and get rid of the gender stereotypes that contribute to maintaining the inequalities between women and men in the 21st century.

 

About the author

Iratxe García Pérez (S&D, ES) is chair of parliament’s women’s rights and gender equality committee

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