International Women's Day (IWD) is the story of ordinary women as makers of history. It is rooted in the centuries old struggle of women seeking to participate in society on an equal footing with men.
The idea of an IWD (March 8) first arose at the turn of the century, which in the industrialized world was a period of expansion and turbulence, booming population growth and radical ideologies.
IWD is a time to reflect on the progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of women's rights.
Some people realized that women comprise more than half the world's population. And that too often they are in the front line in terms of poverty, sustaining communities and managing the earth's biodiversity and natural resources, women are also uniquely vulnerable to environment-related health issues. Despite their role and their know-how, women's contribution is often undervalued and ignored.
Until women are fully represented at senior leadership levels of public, professional and economic life, women do not have equal rights nor an equal voice. Slowly of course women are taking up decision making decisions but it is not the figures that we are happy. I guess we need to take all chances that are available.
These sisters, along with many other sisters in leadership roles, speak out on women's issues and rights. They speak out on pay equity, women's health care, violence against women, globalization, and opposition to the war in Iraq, child care, full employment, and pension entitlements. Successes have been achieved and, as women, we applaud their efforts.
However, we recognize that women are connected internationally. Sisters in Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe the Philippines, Colombia, Afghanistan and other regions of the world, including Canada's own First Nations community – have successes and challenges that resound within the hearts and souls of women through networking in an organization called Women Together as one.
Yes there are differences within the respective cultures and political landscapes, but the underlying connection is that women constantly strive for fully recognized equality with men and for basic, and improved, human rights. A trite saying that was written stated that "Women hold up half the sky" – so why is it so hard for society to treat women as equals!
In 2008, the slogan that will set the basis for ILO's International Women's Day is "Investing in Decent Work for women: Not just right, but smart", based on the overwhelming evidence that promoting equality is not only a matter of human rights, but it also makes good economic sense.
The motivation and guidance for many women who are in leadership comes from mentors — people who have influenced their personal and professional development, and passed along their skills and knowledge. The positive impact of mentors and role models is perhaps most impactful during times of challenge in women's lives— women who are escaping violence and abuse, single parents working hard to support their families and those who have rarely experienced the feeling of hope and opportunity.
Mentors and role models play critical roles in women's lives. They help women reach their personal best so they too can contribute to building a strong economy and safe communities.
On International Women's Day, I invite you to think about the role models and mentors in your life. What knowledge and skills can you now pass to a younger woman, to help open doors in her future?
This year, we can do more than celebrate our achievements — we can cultivate success for the future.