March is Women’s History Month -- a time to reflect on the fact that women still comprise the majority of the world’s poor, unfed, and unschooled. Hundreds of thousands of women die in childbirth every year. They are subject to rape as a tactic of war and exploited by traffickers globally in a billion dollar criminal business.
Laws are still on the books denying women the right to own property, access credit, to make their own choices within their marriage. And honor killings, maiming, female genital mutilation, and other violent and degrading practices that target women are tolerated in too many places today.
“Like all people,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, “women deserve to live free from violence and fear.” But in order for that to happen, women must be equal partners. That means making key resources available to women as well as men, including the chance to work for fair wages and have access to credit; to vote, petition their governments and run for office; to know they can get healthcare, and to send their sons and daughters to school.
It is foolish to think that countries can fully develop if half their population is left behind. Women are vital to solving the problems of poverty, illiteracy, and disease. Women also have an important role to play in peacemaking. In regions once torn apart by war, including Northern Ireland, Rwanda, the Balkans, and parts of Central America, women have found ways to bridge the divides of sectarian conflict.
As the U.S. marks the accomplishments and untapped potential of women around the world, said Secretary Clinton, “we must remind ourselves that ensuring the rights of women and girls is not only a matter of justice. It is a matter of enhancing global peace, progress, and prosperity for generations to come.”