As we approach International Women’s Day (8 March) this year, the theme of women’s equality is more urgent than ever. We have witnessed in the last year a backlash against women’s and girls’ rights and gender equality almost all over the world. We must come together as a global community to address the many challenges and injustices faced by women around the world if we want to attain our global goals of sustainable development and universal peace.
The COVID-19 crisis had already exacerbated pre-existing gender-based discrimination and violence. The world is yet to recover from the economic recession and change in employment practices that had a negative impact on women’s rights.
The recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has had a devastating impact on the rights and freedoms of women in the country. Women are being forced to stay at home and their access to education and healthcare is severely limited. Initial reports suggest that some 16 per cent of the women have lost their jobs after the takeover. The situation of women lawyers is particularly concerning as they are being hunted down by former prisoners released by the Taliban regime. It is our duty to stand in solidarity with these women and call for their rights to be protected and upheld.
In Iran, the ‘lift the veil’ movement has highlighted the systematic oppression of women in the country. The Iranian regime has been responsible for the deaths of many girls who have spoken out against the oppressive laws that restrict their freedom. Almost 1000 girls have been poisoned by toxic gas in Iran since the beginning of the protest, in what many believe is a deliberate attempt to force their schools to shut down and prevent the girls from reaching out to the public with their demands. We must demand that the Iranian government respect the rights of women and girls and take immediate action to stop these atrocities.
The Turkish government’s human rights record was already at the lowest of its history and much lower than any acceptable standard in a democratic society. Official statistics suggest that between 2015 and 2021, 97,721 women were tried under the anti-terrorism laws of Turkey, 24,945 of whom received prison sentences. Turkey’s antiterrorism laws are reportedly used to silence opposition in the country. Turkey’s prisons are overcrowded and women inmates are subjected to various forms of inhuman treatment, including sexual harassment, naked body search and psychological torture. Turkey’s resile from the Istanbul Convention encouraged impunity for crimes against women. Only in 2022, 334 women were killed by men and only a minimal number of these cases were solved.
The recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria has once again shown that women and children are often the real victims of natural or manmade disasters. There are already signs that the regime is discouraging civilian initiatives to participate and independently control the rehabilitation efforts. Access to social media has already been restricted in various locations. When an already authoritarian regime restricts participation and communication, there is enough reason to be concerned. The international community must put pressure on the Turkish government to ensure that women and girls of vulnerable populations are provided due support and resources they need to rebuild their lives.
In Ukraine, the ongoing conflict has had a particularly devastating impact on women. UN’s Refugee Agency’s figures suggest that 80 per cent of the displaces 8.3 million Ukrainians are women and girls. These women are often the targets of violence and sexual abuse and are left to bear the brunt of the war’s consequences. We must do everything in our power to support the women of Ukraine and ensure their voices are heard.
We must not forget the impact that western restrictions on immigration are having on women. Many women are being forced to leave their homes and families behind in search of a better life, only to face discrimination and hardship in their new countries. Even when the immigration stories that hit the newspaper headlines are about men, there are silent women and girls that will suffer the repercussions of those stories, unheard and unaided. We must call on governments to do more to support these women and provide them with the resources they need to thrive.
Women and girls lag behind by means of enjoying the developments in new technologies. The digital gap is wider for women and they are the victims of new forms of online violence and harassment. It is essential to ensure that new technologies incorporate a human rights-first approach and prioritise the protection of women and girls in their platforms.
In conclusion, as we celebrate International Women’s Day this year, let us remember that women’s equity is not a privilege, but a fundamental human right. Let us realize we cannot achieve gender equality without eradicating gender-based violence. Let us understand that with half of its population left behind, no society can reach its full potential.
We must stand together and demand that governments and other institutions take immediate action to address the many challenges and injustices faced by women around the world. Only then can we build a more just and equitable world for all.