Sunday, 8 March 2009

International Women's Day

Greetings on 8 March, International Women's Day. Googling, I was astonished to see a number of cards available for the day – very generalised ones, with absolutely no politics behind them.

But with so many problems facing women in the world today – particularly in the developing world – it's important to remember the political origins and meaning of this day.

It's not a new day – it was first marked 100 years ago in the US, and it was always in support of better conditions and pay for working women, together with suffrage.

Women still face violence – in the home and outside it. Rape remains a weapon of war. Girls are subjected to genital mutilation, arranged marriages and so-called 'honour' killings. In at least one country in the world today, a democratically elected government has banned all abortions and women are dying because of that ban. Poverty remains a vast problem for millions.

This year, the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that the specific health-care needs of women are often ignored or insufficiently taken into account in war situations.

In the world’s least developed countries, many of which are at war, women are 300 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications than in developed countries, according to UNICEF.

While armed conflicts and other violence affect entire communities, women are particularly at risk of rape and other forms of sexual violence. Because of poor security conditions or because they have no means of transportation, it is often impossible for women to reach a health-care facility so as to give birth safely.

But the problems facing women are not always obvious ones. In Zimbabwe, the crippled economy and massive unemployment caused by Robert Mugabe's nasty regime also mean that sanitary protection is incredibly difficult to come by for women, and incredibly expensive. In trying to find alternatives, from newspapers to dirty rags, women have become infected – and then been attacked by men who think that they've got a sexually transmitted disease.

Dignity!Period is campaign run by Action for Southern Africa (Actsa) that works in a variety of ways to help Zimbabwean women.

We all need to work to make this world a safer place for all it inhabitants. And International Women's Day is, if nothing else, an important reminder of the problems and dangers that face many of our sisters.

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