International Women’s Day is an occasion to review the ongoing struggle for women’s rights and gender equality. It is an opportunity to celebrate the progress made, as well as condemn the ongoing difficulties many women and girls face in their efforts to assert their rights to equality and justice. March 8 is also an opportunity to renew our commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) which, if implemented, would help to ensure that women and girls were guaranteed access to education and lives free from violence.
In the current financial crisis, political leaders worldwide are spending more time, energy and money, saving banks and businesses, than improving standards of living for the millions of children, women and men struggling to survive at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Many are literally starving because of the food crisis, loss of jobs, lower wages and cuts in social benefits. Many are illiterate and have no access to education. Two thirds of the one billion illiterate adults who have no access to basic education are women.
The implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and achievement of the Education for All commitments are under serious threat. The bail-out money for the financial and corporate sector is twenty times more than the amount needed to achieve all of the Millennium Goals at once! “The time has come to invest in people and focus global recovery strategies on social justice – women are central to this process,” said Fred van Leeuwen, General Secretary of Education International.
Investing in women and girls is part of the solution to building a sustainable future. Educated women have a multiplier effect on the levels of education and health of their families and on productivity for sustained economic growth. Educating girls and women enables them to become agents of change. It allows them to become part of the solution to the economic and environmental crisis, instead of mainly suffering its consequences.
Important progress has been made in ensuring access to education for 40 million boys and girls over the last nine years, according to UNESCO. However, in the current scenario of widespread economic recession and political instability, Education International is seriously concerned about the potential for consequent setbacks to the implementation of the Development Goals in many countries.
Teachers and their trade unions play an important role. They are committed to fighting for pay equity, the reconciliation of family and work, and equal opportunities for all women and girls. They are concerned especially about those who, every day, have to try to balance their multiple tasks while confronted with precarious work and low salaries. Trade unions also promote the rights of women and men to participate on equal terms in the political and economic decision-making processes which affect their lives.