As feminist as need be, and until Peace prevails!

International Women's Day (March 8) celebrates the achievements of women in their promotion of fundamental and specific rights, and in the prevention of all forms of violence around the world.

It is an opportunity to review the situation, to celebrate achieved victories and acquired rights, but mostly to launch a call to action and to determine what remains to be done to ensure a real recognition of women’s rights and their full participation in the social, political and economic processes.

Why that date?

March 8 refers to two historical events. The first one was “a demonstration in favour of the women's right to vote, organized by the American Socialist Party’s Woman’s National Committee, which was held on the last Sunday of February 1909. Known as the Woman’s Day, it remains one of the Committee’s official activities and was held yearly in the United-States until 1914”. The second event is the 2nd International Conference of Socialist Women, held in 1910 in Copenhagen, during which Clara Zetkin, a German participant, proposed to create a Women’s Day, to be celebrated every year as a propaganda event to obtain the women's right to vote. That proposal won the unanimous support of the delegates representing the 17 participating countries. Between 1911 and 1977, no specific date was actually set, but sporadic celebrations occurred in Europe, North America and other world regions, either on March 19 or in late February or early March, but the main point was that a particular day during that period was dedicated to the worldwide promotion of women’s claims.

Consequently, following the establishment of 1975 as the International Women's Year, the United Nations Organization (UNO) adopted in December 1977 a resolution to invite every country on the planet to dedicate one day to the celebration of women’s rights and international peace. As a result, March 8 was declared International Women's Day.

Since then, various actions have been undertaken by women to equip themselves with legal instruments to guide them, but mostly to incite governments of all countries to fulfill their commitments to improve women’s living conditions. These legal instruments include two fundamental ones: the Beijing declaration (which includes a list of actions and full commitments adopted by 189 governments, covering 12 areas considered essential for women) and the Belem Do Para Convention (for the elimination of all forms of violence against women).

But as of today, to what extent have those commitments been implemented? Some progress has indeed been noticed as far as women’s rights are concerned, but what about international peace?

So far, it seems that the kind of peace women have been seeking since the beginning of their struggle has been neglected, considering what is happening in certain African and Middle Eastern countries, where armed conflicts keep placing women in the most inhumane situations. Losing their husbands and children, having to flee to take refuge from dangerous environments and being exposed to all kinds of risks, women are the first victims of those conflicts. They end up in makeshift camps, as citizens of nowhere, deprived of everything, including such elementary basic services as drinking water and health care, and are subjected to all kinds of violence. A case in point is South Sudan where, according to UNICEF, the situation is critical: close to 1,9 million people (mostly women and children) have been displaced, and more than 1,6 million people have fled to neighbouring countries in search of security (UNICEF 2017).

In such situations, women and young girls are particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, as well as exploitation. Many of them suffer horrible violence when they venture out of doors. They are extremely vulnerable and faced with many challenges, even inside refugee camps where they should enjoy some relative safety. However, on October 31st, 2000, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. This historic text recognizes the decisive role women should play in the prevention and settlement of conflicts, peace negotiations, participation in peacekeeping operations, humanitarian action and peace consolidation efforts following conflicts.

It is time to recognize that women, as family educators and guardians of culture, should occupy more than 10% of the seats at peace negotiating tables around the world, and that women should represent more than 3% of peace agreement signatories, as underlined by UN Women. In order for this to happen, women should be allowed to access decision-making arenas, to be represented at the negotiating tables and be more involved in the reconstruction efforts required for societies broken by conflicts.

Faced with this responsibility to promote peace, we should not only celebrate March 8, but more than ever imagine and design new approaches to help war-torn countries embrace and build action plans and strategies aimed at establishing peace and ensuring sustainable development.

So now get started!!!

Marie Nikette LORMEUS
MSc. Childhood and Youth Policy
Specialist in Gender and Development
Evaluation Analyst at Universalia