“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” -Emma Lazarus
No doubt, the whole world has seen great strides in how women are treated. From near universal women’s suffrage, representation in social movements and political leadership, access to education and employment opportunities, induction into companies’ boards – women’s influence continue to permeate the whole of society.
Here in Kenya, the situation is no different. Be it Lupita Nyong’o validating every child’s dream with possibilities, Wangari Maathai leading in efforts to green the environment, Tegla Loroupe unifying warring communities or Judith Owigar and others facilitating IT training to disadvantaged girls drawn from Nairobi informal settlements, women continue to be pioneers.
Yet, the war is only half-won, for around the world, women’s oppression continues, whether overt or otherwise. Religion, race, culture, gender stereotyping, patriarchism, unjust laws, and negligence and complicity on the part of authorities continue to be stumbling blocks towards the emancipation and advancement of women.
Here in Africa, oppression of women has been a constant too. It too has been occasioned by religion and culture and cemented by the coming of colonialism in which women were stripped of land rights; where once land was held communally, colonialism reassigned it to men as the head of their households. Subsequently, this led to the male child- and men- being given a higher premium regarding such investments as educational opportunities thus placing them at an advantage in terms of employment and wealth creation opportunities.
Indeed, at times, it seems that for every step we take forward in securing the rights of women, we take two steps backwards. Hence the need to recognise, celebrate and rally for women’s rights on this day (and every other day) that is the International Women’s Day.
The International Women’s Day has its origins at the turn of the twentieth century. Then, women labour movements agitated for better pay and better working conditions in Europe and North America. This fight was then enboldened by other women-led movements that agitated for women’s suffrage- with voting rights hitherto being a preserve of white males. In 1945, The Charter of the United Nations affirmed the principle of equality between women and men at the global level; with subsequent adoption and commemoration of the International Women’s Year on 8th March happening in 1975.
As we celebrate women on the International Women’s Day, it would be remiss not to shout out to other women achievers and pioneers. These include: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony for agitating for women’s suffrage in North America; Rosa Parks and Miriam Makeba for standing up against racial segregation; Theresa May and Angela Merkel, leaders of two of the most powerful nations; Marie Curie, scientist extraordinaire and Nobel laureate; Mekatilili Wa Menza for standing up against colonialists and Malala Yousafzai, female education activists. Indeed, theirs is a story of hope and inspiration to billions of women that whatever their origin or standing in life, they too can make a huge difference in making the world a more just and equal place for everyone.