Seven of them were waving thin tree branches as they marched amid singing and sweat under the sweltering heat of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, until bullets were sprayed into their bodies in a horrifying massacre. The tree branches which symbolized peace laid in a sinister pool of blood where the women had once stood.
As women around the world celebrated world women’s day, the United Nations recognized the fact that while progress has been made in the struggle for women liberation and equality, in too many countries and in too many societies — women remain second-class citizens, denied their fundamental rights, deprived of legitimate opportunity. In Africa most women are still considered inferior and subservient to men in many facets of society.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaking at the UN headquarters in New York, recalled that 100 years ago “gender equality was a largely radical idea. But while progress has been made in several countries, women in other countries are yet to enjoy certain rights and opportunities.
Down in the Democratic Republic of Congo, women in the capital city of Kinshasa marched against rape, which has long been used as a weapon of war in the country. They were joined by the president’s wife, Olive Kabila.
In the near-civil-war nation of Ivory Coast, seven female demonstrators armed only with tree branches symbolizing peace were brutally killed last week by soldiers in armored personnel carriers opened fire at them. And during the world women’s day celebration, thousands of Ivorian women defiantly marched to the bloodstained street to demand their rights.
Around the world, women rose to be heard. In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinian women called for an end to the rift between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Fatah, which controls the West Bank. In Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, and the Adriatic port of Rijeka, protesters marking International Women’s Day demanded jobs and called for the government to resign. In Manila, demonstrators demanded justice for “comfort women” forced into prostitution in World War II.
Over one million women and men took to the streets in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on what was originally called International Working Women’s Day on March 19, 1911 to demand an end to discrimination. But despite major progress over the last 100 years, the hopes of equality expressed on that first International Women’s Day are a long way from being realized.
According to researchers, girls are still less likely to be in school than boys, almost two-thirds of illiterate adults are women, and every 90 seconds a woman dies in pregnancy or due to childbirth-related complications despite the knowledge and resources to make births safe, she said. Women also continue to earn less than men for the same work and have unequal inheritance rights and access to land.
The difficulty in the struggle for women rights was captured by Reuters News Agency during the Egyptian protests when women who participated in the revolution seized the moment to demand for equality and an end to sexual harassment. Nonetheless, the women were chastised for their demands. The women were told “to stay home and raise presidents, not to run for president.”
According to U.S. Secretary of State “Women in Egypt and Tunisia and other nations have just as much right as the men to remake their governments, to make them responsive, accountable, transparent. We will certainly be watching and the world will watch.”
In 1975, during International Women’s Year, the United Nations began celebrating March 8 as International Women’s Day. Two years later the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a day for women’s rights and international peace.