17 March 2013

Zimbabwe: Sunday View: The World Still Skewed in Favour of Men

editorial

The 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women took place at the United Nations headquarters in New York from March 4-15. The UN Women Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director Michelle Bachelet declared: "Gender equality must become a lived reality".

International Women's Day has quietly come and gone, without appearing on many people's radar. My mind struggles to imagine the day that the line between men and women would become less distinct, perhaps even blurry, to the point where true equality, not only in name or on paper, is our reality.

Although we have made tremendous strides in the female struggle towards gender equality, there is much more to be done. The UN along with the African Union declared 2010-2020 the "African Women's Decade". It's encouraging to see that steps are being taken towards equality; however the pace is disheartening. Unicef's 2012 report announced that "if current child marriage rates continue, more than 140 million girls will have become child brides by 2020. Of the 140 million girls, 50 million will be under the age of 15".

Gender inequality affects all aspects of society. It is a key driver in the HIV pandemic. The UNAids 2012 report revealed that HIV is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age. In sub-Saharan Africa 59% of all people living with HIV are women.

Women still struggle to gain control of their bodies. The World Health Organisation reported between 15-71% of women aged between 15 and 49 have reported physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives.

This reveals that the problem isn't solely strangers in a dark alley or convicts. Inequality is rampant within the home and a large degree of violence towards women occurs at the hands of a loved one.

Global reports and statistics show that violence against women is universal irrespective of income, class, culture and race. A UN report says one in three women will experience violence in their lifetime, while one in four women worldwide is physically or sexually assaulted while pregnant. Women and girls make up 80% of the estimated 800 000 people trafficked across borders. The plight of women is cross-cultural and transcends borders.

Although the UN is working tirelessly to assist the female struggle, there is still much to be done. The United Nations Development Programme 2012 report reveals that two thirds of the global illiterate population is women. In some parts of the world, a girl is more likely to be raped than learn how to read. Every year 60 million girls are assaulted at or on their way to school.

It's haunting that these statistics are only a portion of the grandmothers, mothers and daughters that have been assaulted. There are millions of stories of abuse that have yet to be heard, numbers that are yet to be recorded and people that are yet to be reached.

As women's day has come and gone, I struggle to grasp its significance. Is it merely a condescending slap in the face, one day out of 365 set aside specifically for women that isn't made a public holiday?

Or is it meant to be a day of celebration, when we review the momentous strides the female struggle has overcome? It's tempting to be seduced into celebrating, but in the same moment you can pick up the newspaper and merely glance over the numerous stories of rape, female genital mutilation and abuse of women throughout our country and continent. Violence against women and girls remains clearly pervasive within the world.

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