women's rights

[OPINION] How should we commemorate International Women’s Day?

Fritzie Rodriguez

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[OPINION] How should we commemorate International Women’s Day?

WOMEN. Artwork by Zdravka Boudinova-Zdravolina/CC-BY-NC-SA

Zdravka Boudinova-Zdravolina/CC-BY-NC-SA

'To uplift women from the margins, we must first listen'

We commemorate International Women’s Day by acknowledging not only their achievements, but also their struggles and collective efforts against inequality.

Yes, today we celebrate women’s contributions to social, political, and economic change. But today shall also remind us that the fight for gender equality is not yet won.

As of 2022, the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that the global labor force participation rate of women is below 47%. For men, it is 72%. This gap tells us an old story: that not all women and girls have access to education, training, and decent employment. We must change this narrative.

Today is a revelation — that much is yet to be done. Millions of women continue to endure poor working conditions and unfair wages as well as sexual, physical, emotional, institutional, and economic abuse. In fact, the gender pay gap never went away. Globally, women still earn 20% less than men, ILO data shows.

Today is an invitation to listen to women who have been suffering in silence for far too long. They are not only discriminated in the workplace but also at home and in their own communities, where their leadership and care work remain unpaid, unrecognized, and taken advantage of.

Today is a call to action.

To uplift women from the margins, we must first listen. Let us provide platforms for the voices and initiatives of women of diverse SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression), women with disabilities, indigenous women, ethnic minority women, women migrants and refugees, elderly women, young girls and adolescents, and all women.

Stories of ‘invisible’ women
WOMEN RISING. These indigenous women are leading a group opposing mining in Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines. Photo by Sharlaine Balagtas/FORUM-ASIA.

On International Women’s Day, let marginalized women tell their stories. Their stories speak of oppression but it does not end there. Such stories are a testament to their hard work and determination in attaining freedom, equality, and a sustainable future not only for themselves but also for their co-workers; their entire communities; the younger generation; as well as their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons. The latter proves that the fight for gender equality should not be fought by women and girls alone. To put an end to inequality, men and boys must also learn and understand women’s rights, advocate for diversity and inclusion, and unlearn gender-based stereotypes.

The story of Pakistani women agricultural workers, for example, is relatable across Asia. They are the biggest contributors to Pakistan’s informal economy and yet their male counterparts earn more than double in wages. Although these women are at the forefront of feeding the nation, they struggle with food insecurity and malnutrition. Many were forced to marry at an early age, having no choice but to work the fields as their in-laws’ bonded laborers.

In the Philippines, mining impacts both the environment and women. Mining operations threaten agri-fishery — a major driver of the local rural economy. Siltation from the mines results in fewer crabs and fish. Not only do women lose income, their families also lose their personal sources of food. With their livelihoods disrupted, women struggle to send their children to school.

Meanwhile in Mongolia, mining operations come at the cost of women’s health, resulting in miscarriages, mental health issues, and lung problems. The latter also affects newborns. In addition, livestock have turned ill, hence decreasing the income of women working as herders.

In Sri Lanka, women working in garment factories report sexual and verbal harassment, job insecurity, and work-related injuries resulting from a lack of safety gear. Their health also suffers since they are pressured to forego meal breaks at work.

All these women are speaking up, supporting each other, and fighting injustice together. 

On International Women’s Day, we must call on governments and the private sector to do better — not just on paper, but in reality.

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Who defends the defenders?

Women working to secure human rights are called Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs). They consist of farmers, fisherfolk, mothers, activists, journalists, and any woman — from whichever background — who promotes human rights for all.

As they defend the rights of others, WHRDs risk their own lives. They face judicial harassment, arbitrary arrests, detention, police brutality, vilification, and in extreme cases, killing.

In 2022 alone, FORUM-ASIA recorded 217 cases of violations against WHRDs. More than one out of four documented violations were committed against WHRDs, making them the most targeted group of defenders. These figures only confirm that women are at the front and center of advancing human rights and achieving social equity.

On International Women’s Day, let us ask: who defends the defenders? In the same way that WHRDs strive to uphold the rights of everyone, it is now our turn to stand up for them.

Lastly, may our celebration of women go beyond March 8th. From here on, may we commemorate and protect women’s rights and its defenders every single day. – Rappler.com

The stories mentioned in this article were gathered through a series of fact-finding missions conducted by FORUM-ASIA in 2022 alongside its members and community partners. You may read the full reports here. To learn more, kindly reach out to communications@forum-asia.org.

Fritzie Rodriguez is a development worker and a former journalist. She is a Program Officer for FORUM-ASIA.

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