9 March 2015: The early 1900s were a time of great turmoil for everyone, especially women. With massive changes in industry, economy and policy, women around the world seized the opportunity to rally for their rights in pursuit of a better, equitable and just future.
This era proved a flashpoint in the movement for women’s rights in countries around the world. Since then many battles have been won, but the campaign against intolerance, segregation, oppression and inequality is far from over.
Since the first International Women’s Day was marked in 1911, the world has seen improvements in many areas of women’s equality. However, progress has been uneven and varies widely between and within countries; we have yet to see the kinds of transformative shifts in structures and attitudes to achieve true gender equality around the world.
As the women’s rights movement evolved, it also came to recognise and address the discrimination that girls and women face even in the early years of their lives. Girls, adolescents, and young women continue to face barriers to equality at home, at school, and throughout their daily activities that will affect their entire lives.
Time to ‘make it happen’
Keeping this in view, the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, 8 March, was aptly titled “Make it happen” – a prodding reminder to the international community that although significant milestones have been achieved in the quest for gender equality, a lot more still needs to be done.
This needs to start from the beginning: with girls, adolescents, and young women empowered to realise their rights and to fulfil their potential both now and as adults.
In 2000, world leaders outlined the Millennium Development Goals* (MDGs) consisting of 8 goals with measurable targets and clear deadlines for improving the lives of the world's poorest people and eradicating poverty by 2015. These goals included promoting gender equality and empowering women.
The MDGs have been instrumental in spurring global debates, coordinating efforts, and targeting funding toward policies and programmes to improve gender equality. While the gender equality MDGs have been somewhat successful, global progress has been uneven, and the MDGs failed to inspire transformative change with and for girls and women.
The gender equality goals and targets in the proposed Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, due to be adopted in September of this year by all governments, must aim to truly ‘make it happen’.
Achieving gender equality in the post-2015 agenda needs to meet the rights and needs of adolescent girls who face unique and significant challenges during the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Girls themselves – and the organisations that work with and for them – have outlined their vision for how this happens in the Girl Declaration*. Based on consultations with girls in 14 countries around the world, including Pakistan, the Girl Declaration has galvanised support and momentum across sectors on these critical issues.
It is my sincerest hope that empowering women and girls and ensuring gender equality will remain a key priority of the sustainable development agenda, and that the government of Pakistan will embrace this opportunity to not only ensure gender equality but to emerge as champions of girls’ and women’s rights.
The government has already proved its commitment to key girls’ and women’s equality issues. The landmark Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Bill 2013 was truly a turning point for girls’ and women’s rights in Pakistan, and we urge the government to facilitate the passage of similar bills in other provinces and on the federal level.
We at Plan International also commend the government of Pakistan’s commitment to empower girls and women and ensuring their rights as set forth in Pakistan Vision 2025*.
Building on these commitments, the government of Pakistan has the opportunity to show true vision and leadership as champions of adolescent girls’ needs and rights in the post-2015 agenda.
Achieving transformative change
We can achieve truly transformative change in the next 15 years by following the vision that girls themselves have laid out in the Girl Declaration: working together to ensure that girls can lead healthy lives, free from harmful practices like child marriage, safe from violence, completing at least 12 years of education, and participating in decision-making that affects their lives.
It all starts with girls, and this year we have a chance to make sure everyone knows and acts on this reality.
Let us not see this International Women’s Day as only one day in a year, but as a reminder and catalyst to ‘make it happen’ today and every day. A post-2015 agenda that protects the needs and rights of adolescent girls is the next step on the journey to achieve transformative change with and for all girls and women – in Pakistan and around the world.
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