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Marching towards gender equality

The 2020 theme for International Women’s Day celebrates women’s rights in line with the United Nations Women’s new multigenerational campaign, Generation Equality. This year’s theme, An Equal World is an Enabled World, focuses on calling for action on accelerating women’s equality. The global day for commemorating International Women’s Day is March 8 and it celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day has been celebrated since 1911 all over the world challenging gender stereotypes and bias by all groups everywhere. “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but the collective efforts of all who care about human rights?’’ – Gloria Steinman

This March, not only are we taking action against gender-based bias and stereotypes but we are also reflecting on the progress made so far by women and women rights movements towards gender equality. This year we celebrate feminists, ordinary women, human rights activists and ambassadors who have had the courage and determination throughout history to change the conversation about gender stereotypes. Women such as Graca Machel who pioneered political movements in colonial and post-colonial Africa; Rose Parks who in 1955 played a pivotal role in resisting racial segregation; Elizabeth Smith Miller, the first modern woman to wear trousers in public as a symbol of resisting socially created gender-based norms and Marylyn Monroe the woman who confidently defied societal female moral standards and stood out as a remarkable Hollywood revered by many. We celebrate the great works by men and women all across the globe throughout history who took the responsibility to take action and dedicate their time and efforts to building forces that fought for gender parity and women’s rights.

The conversation of women’s rights over the past century has transformed from the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, followed by the Millennial Development Goals and now the Sustainable Development Goals. Which makes 2020 a pivotal year for advancing gender equality as the world takes stock of the milestones reached over the years. Throughout the world, Civil Society Groups, Non-Governmental Organizations, Government Bodies and ordinary people have become signatories to various movements that forward gender sensitivity in policy drafting, decision making and socio-economic development. It is imperative to note that it cannot be ignored that while a multi-sectional approach is used in mitigation measures, problem-solving and decision making in both private and public sectors, it is of paramount importance to structure gendered frameworks targeting women as vulnerable groups as a sector of its own.

Despite the milestones reached in gender sensitivity with regard to gender equity and representation of women in politics, decision making, policy drafting and access to resources and opportunities. The patriarchal nature of most African societies continues to challenge the dynamic nature in which gender equality can be achieved. Whilst it can be put down that there are over ten United Nations gender equality declarations that most African countries are signatories to, it remains apparent than less than 50% of African parliament seats are taken by women all over Africa. This challenges the conversations around addressing women’s challenges towards achieving equal access to resources if no one represents them from a gendered perspective.

Further on that, women are a diverse group with diverse challenges governed by race, religious affiliation, social stratum, age, political affiliation and geographic location. No two women are the same, no two women have the same socially constructed roles and neither do they have the same stereotypes nor responsibilities. As we move towards equality towards an enabled community, we must understand that women’s diversity should be celebrated and we should put the diversity and achievements of and by women and girls at the core of all efforts to achieve gender equality and equity. This year we celebrate women’s day - collectively founded by women – and the quest to advance women’s concerns and challenges to policymakers that gender sensitivity may be adopted across all sectors - private, public and civil society - for 108 years. Originally celebrated as National Women’s Month after in 1909 when 15 000 women protested long working hours, low pay and no voting rights in New York City, it was Russia that set the March 8 trend in 1913 after women experienced World War 1 difficulties such as starvation and bracing winter winds.

Today, with the dawn of the new millennium the conversation on women’s rights has transformed from just being about equality and equity but also includes gender inclusion and feminism. It is not just about equal participation or representation and access to resources anymore but it is also about challenging societal norms that break down social constructs of roles played by men and women, boys and girls. Today, women and girls’ rights run with the motto ‘Women’s Rights are Human Rights or We are all Feminists and No means No’. All to foster a mind-set or household change in how communities all over the world perceive women. Although different notions are put forward by the different types of feminists and activists, they all speak the same language. Women should define what women can do, what they can wear and how they look. Women are not a collective group of people with one mind and one similar line of thought. From radical feminists who pioneered an anti-body shaming campaign on social media by pausing nude to the #metoo campaign, women demand control over their bodies and decisions with no interference.

In one of her famous speeches, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie defines feminism as the belief in the political, economic and social equality of sexes. Gender equality is now defined by feminism and gender sensitivity in all aspects of the challenges women face in male-dominated spaces such as sexual harassment and lower wages. Gender equality and equity call for enabled women without fear discrimination or harassment.

It is important to note that civil society organizations have taken the time to study Sexual Harassment and its dynamic and unique nature. A recent study by Transparency International Zimbabwe and the Swedish Embassy has been a much-needed initiative in studying Sextortion as a form of bribery and the dynamic nature of this form of harassment. They have also taken note of the gendered perspective on corruption and how the use of fiscal funds in Zimbabwe for use in service delivery and humanitarian work affects women and girls more than it affects men if and when mismanaged. To date, various studies and frameworks dating back to 1995 have been used to structure development discourses all over the world on how we can create societies that enable women to be empowered economically and socially. As we celebrate women's month this year, we must ask ourselves how far we want the conversation of equality to go before we can give a standing ovation to how much we have achieved but we should also celebrate how far this movement has come in realizing women's needs all over the world.

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