International Women's Day: 4 Most Daunting Challenges Facing Women

March is Women's History Month. This Friday, March 8, is the International Women's Day (IWD), celebrated by women all over the world since 1911. The first IWD was held on
March 19 in Germany, Austria, Denmark and some other European countries.

While women all over the world celebrate the tremendous progress that has been made over the past century with a long list of female eminences in all fields of life, we will also need to remind ourselves that women today are still victims of inequality, discrimination, violence, and even the threat of death simply because they are women.

The cardinal crime against women is violence in the form of sexual assault and global problem of "trafficking [of] women and girls for sexual exploitation." During the maelstroms of war and social unrest, women are often the casualties taken for granted. Just see the recent rape case in Egypt. "It's a perennial problem. War occurs. Women are raped."

The year 2012 witnessed many unfortunate, newsworthy incidents that harmed women across the world. The most memorable one is arguably the infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape case. This year, horrible stories continue to flood in about women being raped and tortured to death; even a 7-year-old girl cannot escape the horror in a Delhi public school. All of these atrocities constantly remind us that life can be unfairly perilous for females.

Another area women are shortchanged in is education. Education is the key to raising one's economic and social status, yet a woman's right to education is deprived in many parts of the world.

America is ahead of most of the world in women's education. As Hanna Rosin reports in her book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, more women now graduate from college in the U.S. than men. Yet, globally, we are too familiar with what happens to women who seek education, such as Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai. Throughout the world, "Two-thirds of the children who receive less than four years of education are girls. Girls represent nearly 60% of the children not in school ... Women make up 66% of the world’s illiterate adults."

The United Nations Millennium Project pinpoints some facts on education in Africa:

— More than 40% of women in Africa do not have access to basic education.
— If a girl is educated for six years or more, as an adult, her prenatal care, postnatal care, and childbirth survival rates will dramatically and consistently improve.
— Educated mothers immunize their children 50% more often than mothers who are not educated.
— AIDS spreads twice as quickly among uneducated girls than among girls that have even some schooling.
— The children of women with five years of primary school education have a survival rate 40% higher than children of women with no education.

The third problem that plagues women throughout the world is poverty. Have you heard of the phrase "Feminization of poverty?" That term highlights the fact that poverty  disproportionately hits women.

In America, adult women had a higher poverty rate than adult men in 2011, as they have had in every year since poverty was measured in the 1960’s. At every level of educational attainment, women were substantially more likely to be poor than men. Here are some of the 17 facts about women and poverty in this country.

1. Single mothers are twice as likely to be poor as single fathers.
2. Women make on average 77 cents for every dollars a man makes.
3. 27.5% of black women were living below the poverty line in 2009
4. 13.5% of white women were living below the poverty line in 2009.
5. 27.4% of Hispanic women were living below the poverty line in 2009.
6. Women are more likely to be living below the poverty line than men across all racial and ethnic groups.
...
17. Women with breast cancer are 11% more likely to die if they live in lower-income communities.

One blogger puts it like this:

"If I were a painter I would have depicted the poverty of India with the face of a woman. The poverty in India has a female face. Be it hunger, education, child health, maternal health, diseases including HIV and AIDS and even environmental sustainability, the brunt of poverty falls greatly on women."

The recent sequestration hit women hardest, as Allyson Werner wrote on PolicyMic.

The fourth crime, also the hardest one to conquer, is that girls are discriminated against even before birth. Sex-selective abortion, female infanticide and the abandon of "unwanted girls" not only in India and China but also in developed countries result in lopsided boy to girls ratio in some part of the world. It is possibly the hardest discrimination because the root of the problem lies in the cultures that value boys over girls.

After looking back on a year of shocking violence against women, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said, "This year on International Women’s Day, we convert our outrage into action. We declare that we will prosecute crimes against women and never allow women to be subjected to punishments for the abuses they have suffered. We renew our pledge to combat this global health menace wherever it may lurk in homes and businesses, in war zones and placid countries, and in the minds of people who allow violence to continue."

Let us use the annual IWD to reflect on the burning issues facing women today and to kick-start the momentum of change wherever change is demanded.