Today, the world celebrates International Women’s Day to remember the social and political rights of women, their long struggle to obtain those rights, and their strength. The history of March 8 becoming International Women’s Day dates back to the 1800s. According to some sources, a group of women working in factories staged a protest against poor working conditions and pay on March 8, 1857, in New York.
Follow-up demonstrations seeking fair conditions for female workers and equal rights for women took place in different parts of the world. So every year on March 8, women worldwide commemorate those who started this valuable struggle.
But decent living and working conditions for women are still a challenge after 160 years of struggle, especially in the Middle East. Despite the increasing voices of women in Arab society, they still have to struggle to gain their civil rights and protect those obtained. They face the further erosion of their social and civic rights due to ongoing conflicts in the region.
The key to winning this struggle is continuous, increased activism against atrocities, crimes, sexual abuse and discrimination against women in the Middle East and elsewhere. This activism in itself provides hope. Today, women in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon stand up in support of women’s rights worldwide.
The Middle East has a long record of women’s struggle for fundamental rights, and against military occupation, patriarchy, homophobia, terrorism, domestic violence and poor working conditions. Women’s conditions and their role in society differ from country to country.
The sovereignty of every country depends on men and women uniting. Every man was given birth by a woman, so saving women saves the world.
Saudi Arabia celebrated its own Women’s Day for the first time in its history, with a three-day gathering at King Fahd Cultural Center in Riyadh, during which some participants raised their voices against the male guardianship system and called for basic rights for women. The event and its participants are of great significance because change in a country can only come from within.
However, there is still serious discrimination against women in society, politics and business, and this is not limited to Muslim countries. Last week, a Polish member of the European Parliament, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, insulted women, saying they “must earn less than men because they are weaker, they are smaller, and they are less intelligent.” This speech took place in the heart of Europe, a so-called cradle of democracy, liberty and human rights.
Women are neither weak nor less intelligent. Remember human rights activists such as Shirin Ebadi, Tawakkol Karman and Malala Yousafzai. Women are born free, and should have equal rights to men. Every political power in a country should have a serious responsibility to protect women’s rights. The sovereignty of every country depends on men and women uniting. Every man was given birth by a woman, so saving women saves the world.
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes mainly in issues regarding Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. She can be reached on Twitter @SinemCngz.