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    Holding Up Half the Sky While Carrying the Village Water Supply: International Women’s Day 2014

    holdingupWomen hold up half the sky. – Mao Zedong

    March is Women’s History Month, which also marks International Women’s Day on March 8, 2014.

    The earliest adoption of an International Women’s Day (IWD) is recorded to have started in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland in extension of the protests for peace against an impending World War I, the women’s suffrage for voting rights, rights to work, and to end discrimination on the job. It wasn’t until mid-century in 1945 that the Charter of the United Nations was signed as the first international agreement to promote gender equity between women and men.

    Of course, there is more to the back story of what has become one of the most inspiring days of the year to reflect on the various statuses of women the world over. IWD provides an opportune time to ceremonially recognize the social, professional, vocational and political advances women have made over the past Century.

    IWD is also a time to redirect and replenish our resources towards the continual efforts to eliminate the social, economic, environmental, and other barriers that stand in the way of achieving 100% gender equity.

    During his last State of the Union address, President Obama quite directly called out the facts regarding the longstanding struggle for pay equity for American women:

    “Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode. This year, let’s all come together – Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street – to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds.”

    As American women continue to strive for workplace and pay equity, reproductive rights, and safety against violence, perhaps we might soon join the ranks of other countries who have at least achieved the election of women as Prime Minister, Chancellor, and other heads of state by electing our first woman as President of the United States of America.

    Meanwhile, the City and County of San Francisco’s Commission on the Status of Women maintains its stronghold as being the first and one of a handful of municipal and/or county government officials in the nation that is working diligently with local government agencies to promote and implement the gender equity principles of the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, also widely regarded as an international bill of rights for women. Of the 194 U.N. Members, 184 have ratified CEDAW. The United States remains one of the 7 countries, including Somalia, Iran, South Sudan, Sudan, Tonga, and Palua, to have yet to ratify this important treaty on women’s rights.

    Globally, there remain so many aged challenges that women continue to face in this developing, technologically-driven 21st Century in pursuit of equality, that it admittedly can at times seem daunting, even for the most ardent champions of feminist principles and action.

    Recent reports by Amnesty International, the US Census Bureau, the Women’s Learning Partnership, and the U.N. Development Program present some ‘reality-check’ facts on the status of women to ponder. Among them:

    – Women perform 66% of the world’s work, but receive only 11% of the world’s income, and own only 1% of the world’s land.

    – Women make up 66% of the world’s illiterate adults.

    -Sub-Sahara African women spend an average of about 200 million hours per day collecting water, amounting to 40 billion hours per year.

    – Women account for 55% of all college students, but even when women have equal years of education it does not translate into economic opportunities or political power.

    – There are six million more women than men in the world.

    – Two-thirds of the world’s children who receive less than four years of education are girls. Girls represent nearly 60% of the children not in school.

    – Wars today affect civilians most, since they are civil wars, guerrilla actions and ethnic disputes over territory or government. Three out of 4 fatalities of war are women and children.

    – Rape is consciously used as a tool of genocide and a weapon of war. Tens of thousands of women and girls have been subjected to rape and other sexual violence since the crisis erupted in Darfur in 2003. There is no evidence of anyone being convicted in Darfur for these atrocities.

    Gender-based violence kills one in three women across the world and is the biggest cause of injury and death to women worldwide, causing more deaths and disability among women aged 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accident, and war.

    When fleeing violence, or spending the majority of your waking hours hauling ‘clean’ water supply for your village and family, the time to ‘lean in’ towards gaining mobility in the digital divide proposes a totally abstract luxury.

    As LGBT people struggling for civil and human rights, we should be very concerned about each and every one of these barriers towards gender equality. The causes and consequences of these and many other harrowing realities intersect, and intertwine into the very tapestry of LGBT liberation movement.

    We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, India, and in other parts of the world where severely draconian policies and war-like actions are violently attacking our most basic human rights to peacefully exist as LGBT people. In tandem with these political wars remains the fact that in some countries, rape and torture of lesbians or women thought to be lesbian is sanctioned as a means to ‘correct’ their same sex orientation. Stopping the atrocity of ‘corrective rape’ is not just women’s issue, it’s an LGBT issue. As more LGBT people seek to flee persecution from anti-gay forces to secure asylum in more humane societies, the imperative for building coalition on just this singular matter of urgency is gravely apparent.

    Ultimately, gender equity in all manner, shape and form — for women, girls, LGBT people, for all people — is a fundamental human rights issue. International Women’s Day is the perfect day to re-dedicate ourselves to all eliminating all barriers towards safety, economic opportunity, education, access to health care, and equity for women and girls all around our world.

    Andrea Shorter is the Vice-President of the Commission on the Status of Women in San Francisco. She is a co-founder of the International Museum of Women ( and the former president of the SF Chapter of the National Organization for Women, Standing Against Global Exploitation, and La Casa de las Madres.