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Emma Saloranta Headshot

When Women Have It All

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A couple of weeks ago, the world came together to celebrate International Women's Day. Last week and this week, the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is taking place in New York, bringing together UN agencies, governments and civil society to take stock of the situation of women and girls, particularly in relation to the Millennium Development Goals. In 2011, October 11 was designated as the International Day of the Girl Child, which has now been celebrated twice, under the themes of ending child marriage and innovating for girls' education. In many fronts and in many ways, women and girls are better off today than they have ever been before, and are gaining more attention and more momentum.

However, today -- and on any other day -- millions of women around the world fall short from realizing their full potential. Today, as on any other day, around 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Millions of women are raped, attacked and battered. Female fetuses are aborted. Women are blocked from educational and career opportunities and prevented from participating decision-making processes -- solely because of their gender. Women and girls are negatively impacted by simple things like menstruation, or lack of lighting on roads or separate toilet facilities for girls and boys. There may have been plenty of progress, but several barriers and obstacles to gender equality and women's and girls' empowerment continue to exist.

In the meantime, particularly in western societies, we often find ourselves engaging in the "can women have it all" debate. For us, "having it all" generally refers to women being able to combine having a family and having a career. "Having it all" means not having to give up your professional ambitions and aspirations for the sake of starting a family, not having to choose between being a mother and being a professional -- a goal we should all, without a doubt, strive for. However, in the world we live in, for a vast majority of women "having it all" means something entirely different. It means not living under constant fear of violence and abuse; not having to worry about unsafe pregnancy and childbirth; not being denied education for being a girl, or not being turned away from a job because of our sex. It means not having to skip school because of menstruation, or having to spend hours every day on fetching firewood and water. "Having it all" means having equal opportunities to become involved in politics and decision-making, and being able to have control over one's own life and destiny. For some women, "having it all" may simply mean not having to fear for their lives solely because of their gender.

This year, UN Women chose "Equality for Women is Progress for All" as the theme for Women's Day. It is time to take a moment to reflect what kind of a world we want to build - not only for women and girls, but for men and boys as well. We want a world where women everywhere can, truly, have it all -- a safe, healthy, balanced and fulfilled life, with equal opportunities for everything and anything despite where they are born, where they live, what the color of their skin is, what religion they practice. We need a world where women can finally realize their full potential and become agents of change and progress. In a world where women have it all, it is not only women and girls who benefit, but every single one of us -- because women's and girls' well-being translates into well-being and progress on a much broader level.

This is not something we need to strive for only on Women's Day, or during CSW, or on Day of the Girl, but on every single day until gender equality becomes a reality for all girls and women around the world. Particularly now, as 2015 is right around the corner and world leaders and decision makers are coming together to craft the next Global Development Agenda for the post-2015 period, it is crucial to ensure that women and girls are not left outside of the process and are not ignored in the new development goals, targets and indicators. No country in the world can afford to waste the potential of half of their population anymore. Let's ensure that women and girls can, truly, have it all -- health, education, security, decision-making power, participation, access to resources, voice, empowerment - because a world where women and girls have it all is a better world for all of us.

This month, Girls' Globe is partnering with Johnson & Johnson to highlight stories of women and girls who inspire us to strive for a better, more gender-equal and just world. Visit us on Twitter @girlsglobe and @JNJGlobalHealth to share a story of a woman who inspires you with #WomenInspire.