International Women’s Day: our support, past and present
8 March, 2013
We are proud to support International Women’s Day (IWD) today, a celebration of the political, economic and social achievements of women across the globe since 1909, and a chance to look to the challenges that remain.
Originating within an era dominated by demands for better pay, better working conditions, and the right to vote, IWD historically focused on galvanising support for overcoming barriers faced by women across the world. Today, while some of these issues have been addressed as a result of a long struggle fought from the grass roots level right through to the United Nations by both women and men, women throughout the world still struggle for effective implementation of their economic, social and political rights.
To many, IWD is now a celebration of successes, an opportunity to honour some of the most vocal advocates of change and also a chance to recognise continuing challenges. From violence against women in countries such as India and the DRC, to recent complaints within the UK regarding male parliamentarian behaviour towards female counterparts, in both the public and private sphere, personal security issues remain at the forefront of the international agenda.
The UN holds an annual IWD conference aimed at coordinating ongoing international efforts to secure women’s rights as well as participation in the public sphere. At Wilton Park, we are committed to supporting this work, for example through our 2008 conference on Women targeted or affected by armed conflict: what role for military peacekeepers? held in partnership with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). The conference report was issued as a document of the Security Council (SC) and contributed to the debate which resulted in a UN SC Resolution calling for an annual report on the status of women in armed conflict.
Our most recent work in this area has been in support of an initiative of the UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague on preventing sexual violence, for which we ran a three day conference hosting a range of high level experts, many of which have on-the-ground experience dealing with the challenge of impunity as well as investigations, sexual violence mapping, and inter-community communications.
The United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura provided her insight, as did Patrick Nyavumba, Lieutenant General and Force Commander, African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID). In a series of podcasts available on our website, participants discussed how to protect people who have been assaulted and how to help survivors continue with their lives, and pursue justice.
Our objective to create an open dialogue on topical foreign policy issues results in us hosting a number of high-level, globally renowned female participants, including two Nobel Prize winners. In 2006, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf opened our meeting on Peace and security: implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325. Similarly, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee has been a frequent participant and speaker at Wilton Park, contributing her expert knowledge on the role of women in conflict negotiation.
In 2013, we will continue our work in this area through a follow up meeting on Women in peacebuilding from the 18 – 20 March. The meeting will focus on the practical implementation of the Secretary General’s 7-point action plan looking at local experiences in Syria, the Philippines, Colombia, and Myanmar. Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director, UN Women will speak at the opening of the meeting.