Every year, on 8 March, leaders, activists, organisations, and individuals turn their attention to one thing: women’s equality and empowerment. Throughout the world, people celebrate International Women’s Day by thinking about and pledging to act on issues that effect women.

In some countries, including Vietnam, Afghanistan, Laos, and Russia, today is a public holiday. In others, including China, Nepal, and Madagascar, it’s a public holiday for women only.

Events are being held all over the world today and for the rest of the week to celebrate women, discuss issues, and bring attention to the sustainable development goals. In South Africa, only one official event is listed: a High Tea hosted by former Miss South Africa Joan Ramagoshi Madibeng, which will be held in Pretoria on 12 March.

International Women’s Day first began as a holiday in socialist Eastern Europe to celebrate working women. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to adopt 8 March as the international day to celebrate women’s rights and world peace.

As feminism and women’s rights came more to the forefront, so too did International Women’s Day. In 1996, the UN began adopting yearly themes for the day, beginning with “Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future.” These themes set topics of discussion and focus on issues that the U.N. believes are crucial for the public to consider.

These themes have ranged from the specific – 2002’s theme was “Afghan Women’s Day: Realities and Opportunities” – to the broad – 2000: “Women Uniting for Peace!” – but all have caused global leaders, NGOs, and businesses to focus on issues relating specifically to women.

In 2016, the theme is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up for Gender Equality.” With this theme, the United Nations wants to call attention to the Sustainable Development Goals and the new global 2030 roadmap approved by all the UN member states in September of 2015.

Each of the 17 development goals affects women particularly, according to UN Women.

“Women and girls make up more than half the world’s population – and they are on the front lines – often more deeply impacted than men and boys by poverty, climate change, food insecurity, lack of healthcare, and global economic crises,” the UN Women website says. “Their contributions and leadership are central to finding a solution.”

This assertion may be confusing – why would women and girls be more affected by poverty and climate change then men? But once you think about the situations in many developing countries, it makes sense.

All figures below come from the United Nation’s editorial spotlight on Women and Sustainable Development Goals. The sustainable development goals include eliminating poverty and hunger, increasing education, and having clean water and sanitation. To see the 13 other goals and how they affect women, visit www.unwomen.org.

Men often receive more education then women, making them more equipped to find jobs and support themselves and their families. Women account for 60 per cent of the world’s illiterate and, in sub-Saharan Africa, only 23 per cent of poor rural girls finish primary school.

Women are often unemployed or lack the skill set to gain employment, and end up doing tasks such as fetching water, farming, and taking care of their families. Only 50 per cent of the world’s working-age women are in the workforce, compared to approximately 75 per cent of men, and globally women earn 24 per cent less than men.

Among 143 countries, at least 90 per cent have a legal restriction on women’s employment, usually based on a definition of what “women’s work” is. South Africa is one of the 15 economies with no legal differences between what women and men can do, according to the 2014 “Women, Business, and the Law” U.N. report.

All together, this means that if the family’s provider loses a job, dies, or leaves the family, the woman is more likely to be thrust into poverty. If equality is achieved, women will have equal access to education, jobs, and financial opportunities.

As part of the “Planet 50-50 by 2030” theme, U.N. women wants individuals around the world to #PledgeforParity. “Parity” is “the state or condition of being equal, especially in regards to status or pay.”

In 2014, the World Economic Forum estimated that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Just one year later, they cited a “slowdown in progress” for women, and estimated that gender parity wouldn’t come until 2133 – a change of 38 years.

To #PledgeForParity, visit www.internationalwomensday.com/pledge and vow to make an active effort in one of five categories: helping women and girls achieve their ambitions; challenging conscious and unconscious bias; calling for gender-based leadership; valuing women and men’s contributions equally; and creating inclusive, flexible cultures.

Thousands have used the #PledgeForParity and #InternationalWomensDay hashtags on Twitter to promote equality for women, reveal discrimination, and pledge to change.

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