Anybody who pays even the slightest attention to the world around them has a right to sometimes be a little confused about the lives women lead. In America, we see news about women earning more Bachelor’s degrees than men while simultaneously being bombarded with words and images that portray women as mindless sex objects. Internationally, we learn that women comprise 70% of the world’s poor while we also read about the vast number of aid programs that are designed specifically to provide opportunities and tools for women to lift themselves out of poverty.
The dual role of “Victim” and “Change-Agent” can be confusing, and that’s because it is. Women are playing more roles now than ever before — beyond just wife and mother, they are students, activists, business leaders, politicians, and so much more. And yet the truth is that, while women are slowly gaining ground in many places around the world, demanding rights and tearing down walls of discrimination and prejudice and hate, they are also still the number one target of the global status quo, leaving millions uneducated, impoverished, abused, and neglected.
I thought long and hard about how to celebrate today, the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. Should I write about challenges that women still face around the world? The gains we’ve made in recent years? The war on women that has been declared by Republican politicians around the United States? And then a professional acquaintance forwarded me an article that pointed me in the right direction.
Women need specific, targeted, and specialized aid to combat the centuries of abuse and neglect they’ve been subjected to. But even more important than aid is recognizing the emerging role women are playing in issues related to their own peace, prosperity, advancement, and security.
Free people all over the world have been riveted by the violence and protests sweeping across the Middle East as the oppressed and neglected rise up to demand their own freedom. And because women are affected in unique ways by war, violence, conflict, and strife, they are taking matters into their own hands. In Egypt, women are demanding a role in rebuilding their country, striving to ensure that gender-sensitive policies are brought to the table. In Liberia, women are serving as part of a UN Peacekeeping Mission to wage peace in a country that saw years of turmoil and death due to a violent civil war. And the recent launch of UN Women, the United Nations’ newest agency to empower women, shows enormous promise. As Koppell points out, women are the keys to success in overcoming many of the globe’s challenges. And so, empowering women isn’t just a moral imperative (although don’t get me wrong — it absolutely is). It’s also an economic, security, peace, and freedom imperative. The world is starting to recognize this: we recently celebrated the anniversary of UN Resolution 1325, promoting the participation of women in all aspects of global peace and security.
If we want the world to look a certain way, to be a certain way, then we absolutely 100% must engage women in a more targeted and directed way than ever before. But women need the tools to do so, and that’s where we can increase our commitment to them. It’s impossible to lead your country in the 21st century if you don’t have an education. It’s impossible to break free from a family that abuses and violates you if you aren’t allowed to leave your home unaccompanied. It’s impossible to bring your perpetrators to justice if you aren’t allowed in a court room, or if the laws of your land do not recognize you as a victim of a crime.
There is much work to be done. But as we increase our efforts to provide targeted aid initiatives to women in the form of microcredit loans and school supplies, we need to also increase our support for the brave women around the world who are taking matters into their own hands. It is time for the global community to recognize their work and support their efforts to be involved in the decisions and policies that affect their lives. These brave women are meeting us more than halfway — it is time we stepped up.