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Zainab Salbi

Zainab Salbi

Posted: March 7, 2011 05:53 PM

One Hundred Years Ago


One hundred years ago, more than one million women and men attended rallies in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland to celebrate the first anniversary of International Women's Day that inaugurated the year prior in Copenhagen. Their demands were for the right to vote, and work, to receive vocational training, and to end discrimination on the job. In following years, women used International Women's Day to protest World War II and to build solidarity with their sisters from different parts of the world.

Though much has been accomplished in women's rights over the past one hundred years, it is ironic that on the 100th year anniversary of International Women's Day we are more or less demanding the same things as our grandmothers did.

Women from around the world are gathering and meeting as part of Women for Women International's call for women to meet on bridges and roar in one voice about the plight of women in the world today. Thanks to our collaboration partners at Google, millions of women from all corners of the planet are able to participate in person on local bridges, or virtually with other online participants.

From the Democratic Republic of Congo to Sydney, Australia, the demands are still the same: peace and end to the wars that are going on in our world. From DRC to Afghanistan women are targeted for violence, rape, and displacement. Women's engagement in shaping the future of their countries is still missing. Though Egyptian women walked hand in hand with men in the most recent popular revolution that overthrew the government, no woman was invited to join the constitutional review committee to discuss the future of the country. In Afghanistan, as the allies talk about withdrawal and the Afghan government talks about reconciliation with the Taliban, women are only 20 out of 1000 representatives in formal discussions and are fully missing in informal talks. And worldwide, only 8 percent of all peace talks include women at any level.

Economically, women do two-thirds of the world's work for 10 percent of the income. Beyond access to microcredit, women are significantly missing in the formal economy. Women are mostly confined to small and medium enterprise in most of the world, particularly in the developing world. In health, in illiteracy, and in poverty, women still represent the highest majority impacted by such challenges in today's world. The examples are everywhere. Choose any crisis in the world, and you will learn that it is impacting women the most and yet women are missing from the discussion on how to solve it.

If we are to learn from the last 100th year of International Women's Day, we need to take leaps forward in women's rights and not be content with simple symbolic steps. This century needs to end the last tolerated acts of violence and discrimination against 50 percent of the world's population. If the men and women of today's world are serious about building peace, sustainable economies, and healthy societies, then women need to be viewed as the center of the discussion and not forced to sit on the margins of it. Women are the bellwether for the direction of society. Progress starts with women. Unfortunately, so does violence. What happens to women tells a national story ... it tells our world's story. And each one of us, each woman and each man, can be part of making the future story a much better, peaceful, and healthy one for all.

Women are rising up today as our grandmothers did 100 years ago. Today, we are asking for the world to make serious investment, to fully-not symbolically-incorporate women at all decisions making tables, in all sectors. Together with men, the private sector and new partners we can build a better world for all. Join me on the Bridge tomorrow. Join women across the world on the bridge tomorrow. Join Women for Women International to call for building many bridges of peace and prosperity for all every day of the year.

Can't Join WoMEn on the Bridge? You can also text to give by text WOMEN to 20222 for a $10 donation.