International Women’s Day 2021
March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day when we recognize and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and girls. It’s also a day designated to raise awareness of the work left to be done. This year, the UN has chosen the theme as Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.
During this past year, women have been at the forefront of the pandemic. They have worked, and continue to work, as healthcare workers, community volunteers, caregivers, teachers and leaders. It’s worth noting that those nations whose heads of state are women – Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland and New Zealand, to name a few – have not hesitated to take decisive steps to curb the pandemic’s disastrous effects.
However, despite the leadership of some women at the highest levels of government, there are still far too few. Gender equality remains an enormous hurdle, not only in developing countries, but in developed countries around the world. On every front, the COVID-19 pandemic has eroded hard-fought gains to gender equality. Women have been disproportionally impacted by the health and economic crisis. They have endured layoffs, lack of childcare, increased unpaid work and a rise of domestic violence.
Girls’ education, in particular, has been hard hit by the pandemic. Our blog last April talked about the fear that, in many low-income countries, girls would not return to the classroom. Moreover, without education, girls lose the safety net provided by that environment. The risk of sexual exploitation and gender-based violence presents a very real threat during the pandemic. Moreover, unable to afford to send their girls to school, poor families marry them off. This figure from the Center for Global Development shows the different factors that have caused girls to drop out of school.
Going forward, we must ensure that all girls receive a basic quality education. It provides the foundation for equity in society. Furthermore, a good education offers access to health and nutrition information for girls and their families. Schools provide a safe place to grow as they learn. Education delays marriage and pregnancy, thereby lowering infant and maternal mortality. The knowledge they acquire will allow them to provide economic support to their families. And, an educated woman is more likely to send her children – boys and girls – to school, thereby increasing the likelihood that future generations will receive an education: a virtuous circle.
Let’s celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day with a renewed commitment to ensure that all girls and women will have access to a quality education that will enable us all to live in a more just and balanced world.