International Women’s Day: Celebrating progress, while preparing for a new battle

International Women’s Day: Celebrating progress, while preparing for a new battle
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8th March marks the International Women’s Day, amid emerging challenges.

Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | Women on all continents, often divided by national boundaries and by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate their Day, they can look back to a tradition that represents at least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.

International Women’s Day is the story of ordinary women as makers of history, as they struggled to participate in society on an equal footing with men. The promotion of women’s suffrage was the order of the day, and many went to prison for it.

The idea of this day rose in the 18th Century, which was a time of expansion, booming population growth and radical ideologies. Below is a brief chronology of events that led to this day.

In 1909, the first National Women’s Day was observed across the United States on 28th February. In 1910, the Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen established a Women’s Day, although no fixed date was set for it.

In 1911, the day was marked for the first time, on the 19th of March, in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men demanded their right to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination in the workplace.

Less than a week later, on 25th March, a tragic fire in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working girls, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants.

This event naturally had a significant impact on labour legislation in the United States, and working conditions for women workers.

Since those early years, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of women’s rights.

Internationally, gender based discrimination at the work place has significantly decreased. In America, there are more women in the universities than men, according to a New York Times article in 2010. Well, hooray for women. However, there is still a discrepancy between the salaries of men and women in that country, leaning towards men.

Worldwide, there are more women attaining positions of Head of State. More than 70 countries can boast that a woman has held the position of president or prime minister, many of those in Europe and Asia. Mary McAleese of Ireland who served as the eighth President of Ireland from November 1997 to November 2011, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, Portia Simpson- Miller who was the first female Prime Minister of Jamaica and among other notable women in high positions.

In October 2011, a historic law was passed in England, cancelling a 300 old custom in which the first male to be born in the Royal Family would inherit the throne. Now it doesn’t matter what sex the child is. Male or female, both stand an equal right to inherit the throne as long as one is born first.

In Uganda, the fight to uplift the lives of women has been slow, but has made progress. Most notable are two instances — the criminalising of the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and the proposed Domestic Relations Bill addressing polygamy, bride price, marital rape, Female Genital Mutilation and cohabitation. Basically all harmful practices women in Uganda face today.

On this day, it is time though to look where no one really looks. To fight for the rights of women no one really thinks about. Below are some of the most pressing ills women in power need to address with the utmost urgency.

Women are still giving birth to children they do not need. Because the message has not been spread the right way. It is all well and good to post them up on billboards, but what about entering homes and shoving condoms directly into family’s hands? Some say the men of the house would be averse to it for financial reasons. That would be one way to tackle the issue.

There are many women raising children alone. While this is tolerable for the liberated well-employed young woman of today, think about the woman running a kiosk with all her children about her, or the woman selling cassava. If you pay attention to them every day, you will see the children growing up there. Ergo: They’re not going to school. Another problem in twenty more years.

Lack of education, defilement, early pregnancies, never-ending poverty are only a smattering of the issues that the women in Uganda face today.

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Flagrant abuse of rights exists as well, if we can remember the humiliating arrest of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC’s) Ingrid Turinawe, when she was stripped by policemen. Take that into the private abode of a home, and women suffer domestic violence as well. Women and rights activists described the treatment of Turinawe as brutal, cruel and condemned the force for violence against women.

When International Women’s Day was put in motion, a lot of women all over the world had sacrificed a lot to get where they were-which is why we are where we are today.

This is the year that women all over Uganda should put their hands together, and literally resume the struggle for equality. For we have a long way to go to get it. Let’s start with a woman running for President again!

Happy International Women’s Day! #IWD2020 #EachforEqual