International Women's Day: Celebration of victory and tears for many women

Much has been done in the century and a half since the appearance of the suffragette movements, which demanded that women be considered as equals and have the right to vote alongside men. Gone are the days when society considered women as too unstable to form an some countries. But not all.

It would not be correct to signal 8th March without celebrating the success of the women's cause across the globe, the most visible results of which this year were the elections of Africa's and Latin America's first women presidents, Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson (Liberia), and Michelle Bachelet (Chile). While history is full of stories about women leaders since ancient times (Queen Eyleuka of Ethiopia, 3285 - 3240 BC; Egyptian Queens Hapshetsut, 1501 - 1498 BC, Nefertiti, 1372 - 1350 BC, Cleopatra VII, 51 - 30 BC; Queen Elizabeth I of England, 1558 - 1603; Queen Nzingha of Angola, 1582 - 1663), many of these women gained their positions through birthright rather than by personal merit.

More recently and increasingly, the African continent has produced a greater number of women in government circles (Carmen Pereira, Acting Head of State of Guinea-Bissau, 1984; Premier Sylvie Kinigi of Burundi, 1993/4; Premier Agathe Uwilingiymana of Rwanda, 1993/4; Vice-President Dr. Wandira Kagibwe of Uganda, 1994-2003; Premier Mame Boye of Senegal, 2001/2; Premier Luisa Diogo of Mozambique, since 2004; Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa, since 2005; Vice President Alice Nzomukunda, Burundi, since 2005 and Sao Tome's Premiers, Maria das Neves, 2002/4 and Maria do Carmo Silveira, since 2005), a telling statement about the gradual empowerment of women.

However, it would also not be right to remember March 8th without referring to the considerable amount of work yet to be done and the much that is left to be desired if we are to call ourselves a civilized species which has created a civilized society. In large swathes of Africa and Asia, many girls are forced to drop out of school to help with domestic chores and in many African regions, it is the girls who are expected to support the rest of the family if one or both parents die. Although school attendance rates for girls have improved, while they are not equal to the rates for males, the situation is unacceptable.

It would also not be right to remember 8th March without remembering the plight of women in countries where they are considered as little more than objects. While one must resist the temptation to judge other cultures with foreign values, it cannot be right that women are decapitated in public for not wearing a veil, which is the case in post-Saddam Iraq.

In a country where women's rights were guaranteed by the government of President Saddam Hussein and where they were free to work or to walk or to worship as they pleased, the US-led invasion has sent this country back two centuries in three years. Iraq's Organization of Women's Freedom (OWFI) points out that the US-backed puppet regime in Baghdad stands for Sharia law and herald this day by claiming for secularism, equality and freedom.

Washington's puppet regime in Baghdad even enacted legislation which allows husbands to punish wives who "misbehaved". Houzan Mahmoud, representative of the OWFI in London, claims that, "The US-UK occupation has pushed Iraqi society back into a medieval world in which "honour killings", beheadings, forced veiling and seclusion and sexual servitude are now a part of everyday life".

The interference of the Bush regime in a sensitive area of the globe has created the outcome where "a war and occupation which was sold to the world as bringing "liberation" and "democracy" has been a hand-picked group of political hacks and tribal elders imposed on Iraqi society through a pseudo-parliament and a constitution that makes women second class citizens", claims Houzan Mahmoud.

While the women of Iraq struggle to guarantee their own freedom, it is right that we signal this day by remembering them, and so many others, and by doing what we can to ensure that in a near future we can claim that humankind has created an egalitarian society based on personal values and not on birthright. This means being informed as to what women's movements are doing and supporting their initiatives.

The United Nations Organization recently praised the progress made since the Beijing Fourth Conference on Women eleven years ago. Maybe the United Nations Organization will constitute another "first" in the near future by electing a woman Secretary-General.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov