International Women’s Day – A Woman’s Place is still in the Revolution

This article was first published by Common Dreams

You Strike A woman, You Strike Rock!  These are words made famous by South Africa women resisting and standing up to racial oppression in 1956.  These brave women refused to be subjugated by the apartheid government and although the Women’s March was against the restrictive pass law, this movement proved to be a turning point in the struggle against an unjust political system.  The march led to significant changes in the law and the emancipation women in South Africa.

History provides examples of women who refused the status quo and forever changed the course of events, from American civil society activist Rosa Parks to Kenyan environmental and women’s rights campaigner Wangari Maathai who are recognised for their contribution and their place in the revolution.  Today, nothing has changed.  Women remain at the forefront of the civil society movement, ensuring their rightful place in bringing about peace and building equality in communities at national and international levels.

While there has been significant progress and commitments made in the gender narrative, we still have a long way to go to ensure women are no longer on the fringes of society.  This is where education plays a crucial role as an equaliser and is an indispensable tool to truly transforming women’s place in society.  According to UNWomen, gender inequality still remains a vital cause of hunger and poverty.  “It is estimated that 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women and girls.” (WFP Gender Policy and Strategy.) When it comes to employment, men’s average wages remain higher than that of women and women, the backbones of society, work longer hours than men. Women still lag behind men when it comes to decision making and leadership positions.

In education, gender inequality still exists where women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate people.  In Sub-Saharan Africa, a region with the highest rate of out-of-school children, girls are most excluded, with 24% of girls not in school compared to 18% of boys. In Northern Africa and Western Asia, 12% of girls are out of school compared to 10% of boys.  These numbers indicate that the stakes are high when it comes to bridging the gender gap and ensuring that girls and women are not left behind.

The role of education in emancipating women

It goes without saying that an educated woman is more likely to have greater decision-making power within her household.  Educated girls have great potential to bring about positive change to their immediate families and to society at large. A good example is the formidable Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Prize Laureate and staunch activist for female education and the young 16 year old Greta Thunberg, who is shaking things up in the climate movement.

The Global Campaign for Education, is a worldwide civil society movement committed to defend education as a basic human right and mobilises public pressure on governments and the international community to fulfill their commitments to provide free, compulsory public basic education for all people, in particular for children, women and those from excluded communities. GCE recognises that gender equality is a human right and a requisite for achieving broader social, political and economic development goals, as stated in the Agenda for Sustainable Development.

This year the UN celebrates International Women’s Day under the theme “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change” and spotlights innovative ways in which we can all enforce gender equality and the empowerment of women.  In the 21st century, women no longer occupy an undervalued role in society.  Now more than ever it is imperative that women are celebrated and elevated at the highest level for their immense contribution to shaping a world that is non-sexists, non-gender biased and unequivocally builds gender equitable systems for all.  GCE celebrates this day and enforces the call for education systems that take into account a full analysis of the gendered barriers girls and boys face to complete a free, inclusive, public quality education. In order to tell a different gender story next year, a wider systematic approach must challenge harmful gender norms and transform patriarchal societies into ones that value equality and inclusion.

Authors: Female voices and education activists from various NGO’s across the world.

Madeleine Zúñiga founding member of Foro Educativo,  a Latin America national NGO specialising in educational policy proposals. She is the author of several articles and publications on intercultural bilingual education issues for indigenous peoples

Ema Jackson campaign Manager for Send My Friend to School– UK civil society coalition of international development NGOs, teachers’ unions and charities.

Beathe Øgård is President of the Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund. SAIH’s motto is “education for liberation” and believes that education is the most effective weapon for creating change. The organisation works to promote the right to academic freedom.



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