International Women’s Day 2018: Message from the Executive Secretary

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 8 March 2018 (ECA) - Today on March 8th, 2018, we join the entire world, in celebrating the International Women’s Day with the theme of “Time is Now: Rural and Urban activists transforming women’s lives.” This important day offers an opportunity to acknowledge the relentless work undertaken by activists across the world, to learn from their experiences about the challenges and opportunities and to transform ideas into action to empower women everywhere, rural and urban, to achieve gender equality by 2030.

The realization of human rights and the empowerment of women and girls are enshrined in various international and regional human rights instruments and included as targets in development frameworks such as 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These human rights instruments and development frameworks provide a number of human rights to women and girls. These include, among others, the right to land and land tenure security, food and nutrition, quality and affordable education and health care, and to live a life free of violence, discrimination and harmful practices.

African countries have made considerable progress in incorporating the principles and provisions of these instruments in their national constitutions and legislation, adopting policies and other measures prohibiting discrimination against women, and amending and repealing laws, regulations, customs and practices that are discriminatory.

However, women and girls continue to face barriers to the full enjoyment of their human rights.

Data from the Demographic and Health Surveys undertaken in 34 African countries over the period from 2000 to 2015 shows that the illiteracy rate for females averaged 43 per cent compared to 8 per cent for males. This state of affairs undermines women’s participation in the formal labour market and in the political and public life.

Of the 20 countries in the world where child marriage is most prevalent, 15 are in Africa. Girls who marry early tend to have earlier and more frequent pregnancy and childbirth, resulting in higher than average child and maternal morbidity and mortality rates. Other effects of early marriage include a significant reduction of the likelihood of enrolling and completing secondary school, especially among girls, forced exclusion from school and an increased risk of domestic violence.

Violence against women remains a major problem on the continent.  A study undertaken by the World Health Organization found that 46 per cent of women aged 15 years and older had experienced intimate partner violence.

The gender equality situation is also not encouraging in the economic sphere. In some African countries, gender wage and income inequality can reach 50 per cent, especially in rural areas. Only 10 per cent of formal enterprises are owned by women. In general, rural women spend more than 10 times than rural men on non-market activities and domestic chores, leaving them less time to spend on market activities and leisure, and participation in political and public life.

Denying women and girls their rights represent a serious violation of their human rights. It also undermines economic, social and political development.

Persisting gender inequalities are sustained by a number of interlocking factors the most important of which being patriarchal attitudes and social norms, inadequate allocation of human, technical, organizational and financial resources to implement and enforce policies and legislation and a paucity of good quality sex-disaggregated data on issues that disproportionately affect women and girls.

On the International Women’s Day 2018, let us renew our commitments and redouble our efforts to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.  This is something that should be near the top of all our personal agendas. On my part, I would like to assure you it is on top of mine.