International Women’s Day is rightly a day of celebration of the achievements of women. Across the globe, women are changing their environments, breaking boundaries and providing inspiration to future generations.
Whilst we must take time to celebrate these leaps forward, it is equally essential not to lose focus of the origins of the day, which reside in multiple national battles for rights.
It was first proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1977 as the United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace. But in its various national and later international iterations, it sprang from women’s resistance and organising to defend their rights.
Throughout history, women have stood on the front lines of movements for meaningful change, and this is a day to recall this, while standing shoulder to shoulder in the battles we still face for equality, for dignity, and for physical integrity.
Consequently, International Women’s Day is more than just a celebration. It is a call to action for women’s rights. It is a homage to those who fight for rights, it is a commemoration of those who have struggled and fallen, and a rallying cry for people, everywhere, to recognise, defend and protect the rights of women.
Despite notable progress, worldwide women and girls are disadvantaged in almost every conceivable area of life. In education, notwithstanding significant advances in recent decades, girls and women still suffer multiple discriminations and inequalities.
Multiple barriers to girls’ and women’s education still exist - early and unintended pregnancy combined with stigma, poverty and discriminatory legislation serve to exclude many from education.
Regime change has eroded decades of progress, for example in Afghanistan, where 20 years of momentous achievement in terms of female enrolment in higher education has been wiped out with the Taliban’s ban on women attending university.
The cost of education reflects a major barrier to access, as does the prevalence of sexual assault, and the increased vulnerability of girls and women in the multiple wars and conflicts ongoing worldwide.
These multiple inequalities manifest in the data - 244 million children aged between 6 and 16 are currently out of school - and over half of them are girls, with the gap in access widening at secondary level. Global adult illiteracy rates reveal the historical legacy of inequality, as the majority of the world’s illiterate are women.
Though not by design, RTE is an all female team fighting for equality, fighting for rights, and defending an intersectional approach to address inequality. For us, today is of course a celebration of women and their achievements. But it is first and foremost a battle for rights and a call to arms to defend and protect the rights of girls and women everywhere.
Below are some of our resources on girls and women's education:
International Instruments - Girls and Women's Right to Education
General recommendation No. 36 on girls’ and women’s right to education
'I really want to go to school.' - The right to education of pregnant girls in Kakamega county, Kenya
Legal and policy framework: Early and unintended pregnancy and the right to education in Kenya
Legal factsheet: Gender-based violence against women and girls
Privatization and its Impact on the Right to Education of Women and Girls