The International Women’s Day was celebrated on Tuesday but for many women there was little to celebrate. If they were in one of the many villages across Africa, South America or Southeast Asia, they probably spent the day fetching water or firewood miles away from home or doing some other chores they probably didn’t plan when they were young. Their lives may have been turned upside down by the decision of a man who held control over them.
If they were somewhere in the United States or Western Europe, they probably spent the day in a hospital after being assaulted by some current or former boyfriend who thinks he was owed everything the women got. If they are well educated, they are probably doing a job they are more than qualified for but some male boss thinks she’s lucky to have a job anyway. The fact is women are still, in many ways, the wretched of society—key to our society’s success but often ignored or undermined. It may be a cliché to say that but keeping quiet about it won’t change things either. So, we have to keep saying it as part of the broader struggle to make this world and the United States, in particular, better – if not perfect. If we don’t, too many people won’t notice.
For starters, how many people knew yesterday was Women’s Day? One of us didn’t and that’s probably because he’s a man. Yet, it is a day of recognition that has been around far longer than many of us realize. It started 100 years ago, in the midst of the post-industrial labor movement in Europe, and was a means to encourage women to fight for equality and safer working conditions in the workplace.
Today, the celebration has expanded worldwide and is a day to recognize the achievements and challenges of women around the globe. And while major strides have been made towards equality of the sexes, much remains to be done.
Study after study has shown there is no better way to create relatively quick, lasting positive change in a society than by educating girls. That’s an investment in the future because educated women have fewer children, healthier children, and more educated children.
HIV/AIDS rates are lower amongst educated women than those who aren’t and their earning potential is significantly higher. Moreover, educated women contribute more of their earnings to their community than their male counterparts.
One of the most noteworthy effects of educating girls is that they become more active and knowledgeable participants in their communities’ political processes. This is important because history has shown that women make better leaders who are attuned to the needs of their communities and often seek compromises for the larger good. And as those who still bear the primary responsibility for raising children it is vital that women have a voice in shaping the direction the world should take.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a noteworthy observation during the Women’s Day celebration Tuesday at the State Department. One of the biggest growth markets in the world may surprise everyone: it’s women, but few have noticed.
Today, there are more than 200 million women entrepreneurs worldwide. Women earn more than $10 trillion every year, which is expected to grow by $5 trillion over the next several years. In many developing countries, women’s incomes are growing faster than men’s.
Clinton said these facts should persuade governments and business leaders worldwide to see investing in women as a strategy for job creation and economic growth. Many are doing so. Yet the pool of talented women is underutilized, underpaid and underrepresented in business and society. Throughout the world, women do two-thirds of the work, yet they earn just one-third of the income and own less than 2 percent of the land. Three billion people don’t have access to basic financial services we take for granted, like bank accounts and lines of credit; the majority of them are women.
What’s more? Even in the United States, there are fewer women as chief executives of major corporations despite the fact that more small businesses are created every day by an overwhelming number of women entrepreneurs. Let’s also not forget that the land of the brave and the free has not had a female president.
Worse, the role of the First Lady is typically expected to be traditional. Michelle Obama has done more smiling at the cameras and is known more for her fashion than her policy or managerial skills. Yet, this is a woman who used to be a senior hospital executive, who worked in the mayoral office in Chicago, who was an attorney at a major law firm, and who graduated from both Princeton and Harvard Law Schools.
Men who have poured vitriol at her, including Rush Limbaugh, are men of straw. Mrs. Obama’s presence today at the State Department was testament to the fact that we still have a long way to go in terms of gender equality.