International Women’s Day (IWD) is an intentional day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. It’s a day for the global community to come together and shine a spotlight on progress — and the work still to be done. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. This year, the theme is #BreakTheBias.
In the words of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Executive Director of UN Women and champion of women’s rights, “Our hopes for a more just, safe, and peaceful world can only be achieved when there is universal respect for the inherent dignity and equal rights of all members of the human family.”
As the war in Ukraine escalates, those words couldn’t be more resonant. And with the news and images of conflict, disaster, division and angst, celebration of any kind is a very challenging idea.
It seems progress towards protecting and advancing human rights is more ephemeral than tangible. We are witnessing in real-time the enduring and profound impact of conflict and disaster on women and girls in too many places around the world. While conflict inflicts suffering on everyone, women are particularly impacted by its short — and long-term effects: gender-based violence, increased trafficking, lack of access to essential services, including sexual and reproductive health services, and additional obstacles in accessing education.
But women and girls are also an incredible force for peacebuilding, economic empowerment, community development, entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership. What might be possible for the world if we could truly unleash that force?
As we address current conflicts, work to end racial injustice, face the impacts of a changing climate and regain progress lost over the course of the pandemic, we can prioritize three critical imperatives for gender equality where organizations can make a difference:
Protect and champion human rights
It’s vital to defend the rights and safety of those impacted by war and conflict and advance peace, security and democratic ideals. Beyond addressing the most egregious violations of human rights, there is a clear role for policymakers, business leaders and social sector organizations to safeguard and advance access to safe and affordable healthcare. This includes maternal and reproductive health services, education and economic security — as well as essential needs such as food security, clean water, sanitation, public safety and more.
Empower women as leaders
There is a growing body of research that demonstrates the value of having more women in positions of power in the halls of government, in boardrooms and in the C-suite. Evidence also proves that more inclusive and diverse teams at all organizational levels drive better performance and innovation. Realizing this impact universally will require a collective effort across sectors to build more traditional and nontraditional pathways for women to lead.
Design an inclusive future of work
The pandemic has made blindingly clear that work is not working for many women around the world. In many countries around the world, women’s participation in the workforce fell dramatically. As leaders create a future of work that leans into technology and flexibility, it will be important to create onramps and conditions for women to reenter and thrive in workplaces that are accessible and inclusive. That means adapting recruitment practices to reach women who have left or been forced out of the workforce. It also means designing good, safe jobs with fair wages that close the gender pay gap, removing barriers that hold women back by enabling paid family leave and affordable childcare and appropriately valuing the unpaid caregiving work many women undertake.
This list of imperatives is not exhaustive, but it reflects the critical work to be done — and the ground to regain — in the near term against an urgent timeline to accelerate positive change for women, humanity and the world.