This March the world will come out in various shows of support for women in what has gradually come to be accepted as the Women’s Month. In New York, representatives of both government and non-state actors will be convening at the 62nd session of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women. There, in one of the biggest cities in the world, so far removed from the troubles of rural living, the influential and high-geared will deliberate on the challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.
In Africa, the month proceeds as any other, with the exception of the 8th of March when the continent joins the rest of the world in marking International Women’s Day. This year, Nigeria’s The Women Writers Committee of PEN Nigeria held a series of activities while in Kenya the First Lady held an exclusive launch for the long-term strategy for her ‘Beyond Zero’ campaign. The undercurrent in all of these events across the continent and beyond is the absence of the woman who is yet to ‘make it’ and whose progress is still encumbered by many obstacles. As International Women’s Strike organiser, Tithi Bhattacharya puts it, ‘the focus on the few women who have broken the glass ceiling hides the reality that the majority of the women are in the basement cleaning up the glass’.
It is a common occurrence for rural populations to fall to the bottom of the priority-list during the formulation of development policies and plans. However it is worse for women and girls, who being more strictly bound by cultural norms and practices, are often left out altogether. Culture demands that women, like children, are ‘seen and not heard’. While their city-sleeking counterparts have managed to loosen some of these shackles, women in rural areas have a much harder time demanding their equal share of resources. This is regardless of their contribution to the communal pot in a continent where according to the World Bank, women make up 50% of the labour force. Yet women in the informal (and in some fields within the formal sector) earn much less than men. They also tend to take on much more unpaid care work but very few women are involved in policy-making processes, especially those concerned with public finances.
It is time that conversations around gender balance for development became more open and engagement around policies became more inclusive. The Bogota Declaration on tax justice for women’s rights calls out national governments for accommodating demands by multinational companies for tax incentives, natural resources and government subsidies, while ignoring women’s demands for equitable taxation across the board. By giving Big Business and high-net worth individuals a free-pass on tax, governments are hampering their own efforts in raising the necessary funds to finance the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and particularly, the socio-economic needs of women.
As we celebrate women who have made history in their various fields, a moment of thought needs to be given to those who are still struggling to get their feet through the door.
This month, as different actors join in the press for progress, there is need to ensure that no-one is left behind. Women, at all levels, need to be at the table to demand for their fair share.
Photo credit: Panos