International Women's Day 2013: Not Enough

International Women’s Day, which took place Friday March 8, was a rallying cry for women across the world to come together in solidarity and demand rights. Sadly, there is still a need to recognize this deep need, especially when violent acts and atrocities against women occur on a massive scale.

The most vividly disturbing reminder of this was the gang rape of an Indian woman in late December. The perpetrators are still being brought to justice, one having just died in jail. But the scales of justice still have to tilt back to an equilibrium for international women, especially when laws in countries like Indonesia allow men to have up to four wives, and even trick women into marrying them through a secret ceremony, even if the marriage lasts for an hour.

While the Middle East is still reeling from its Arab Spring, but while it promised freedom for some, it did not prevent against women from being harassed in Tahrir Square. Egypt is one of the worst countries for sexual abuse of women. According to the New York Times, 83% of women surveyed reported being sexually harassed in public.  The Middle East, notorious for its treatment of women is still slow to embrace the western notion of equality. Women there aren’t even allowed to ride motorcycles unless it’s side saddle, effectively eradicating female drivers.

While, in the U.S., we’re arguing about women in the C-Suite. For women in most countries, just getting access to an education is a challenge in itself. A recent documentary chronicling the triumphs and battles of women seeking an education, Girl Rising depicts nine girls from nine countries as they seek to fulfill their own educational and professional dreams. For these girls, even getting in a classroom is a challenge. At least with the onslaught of foreign films getting U.S. financing, such countries can have more exposure and raise more awareness to the plight of their female citizens. However, we still need to look inward in order to effect change since each culture and nation faces its own hurtles.

The U.S. Congress now has the highest ratio of women with 19% comprising this year’s legislature. But that’s nowhere near half and the number of female CEO’s of fortune 500 companies is even fewer with 18 out of 500 or less than 4%. President Obama recently passed a more comprehensive version of the Violence Against Women Act, but the fact that we need legislation signed into law preventing violent acts against women shows that there is a real problem that persists.

We need look no further than our Olympic heroes and role models to see that great men who are lauded for their athletic accomplishments are often complete misogynists. In Oscar Pistorius’s case, he’s an alleged murderer. This form of hero worship in the identity of machismo masquerading as strength has to end. If we are truly ready to take on the cause of building up women internationally we need to be more careful about who we choose as role models.

We can’t wait for tragedy to strike like it did in India or South Africa to raise awareness on an international scale. While International Women’s Day recognizes some great strides in women’s rights, continuous coverage of these struggles and journeys must be ongoing to truly mark progress.