Women and girls – everyone – mark this Wednesday, March 8 in your diaries and on your calendars as an important moment in history. Be available for the whole day and be optimistic.
This Wednesday women will be going on strike in more than 40 countries, from capital cities to small towns, with many more joining them in spirit.
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We are determined to have a better world for all women and girls, for all our children and our grandchildren, be they in Islamabad, Mar del Plata or Washington, DC. As women’s rights movements prove time and time again, human rights and dignity will not just be handed to us. We must stand up and demand our rights. March 8 is the first day of our new lives.
The reasons compelling us to strike and stand in solidarity are not academic. Nor can we lose sight of the sheer scale of injustice pervading women’s and girls’ lives today in 2017.
This figure doesn’t include coercive control, such as psychological and economic control. Women and girls who face discrimination because of their race, disability, gender identity and sexuality and poverty, are impacted most.
These horrifying statistics are not just numbers on a page; they are the experiences of women and girls the world over.
None less than 16-year-old Argentinian high school pupil Lucia Perez – the late Lucia Perez, that is. Just over four months ago she was kidnapped, drugged and gang-raped. The extent of the violence killed her. Her experience is devastatingly common.
Because of her death and those of many other women and girls, a powerful movement of resistance has gathered to say “enough”. Across Latin America, a region that includes seven of the 10 countries with the highest rate of female murder in the world, women have been taking to the streets – proclaiming “Ni Una Menos”, Spanish for “not one woman less”.
Governments must urgently bring harmful culture and tradition closer to international human rights, and dismantle the legal discriminations and barriers that keep and push women back.
Our strike is about pushing back the insidious structures our world has created that murder, rape and beat women; that rob them of their land; that trap them in poverty and degradation.
This injustice that women and girls face daily comes from, at its core, the deep-rooted and senseless inequality between women and men.
This inequality is fostered by the patterns we follow culturally and socially in our daily lives, which are informed by a long history of prejudice – and entrenched in today’s education, culture, media, religion and law. At worst it supports men’s sense of entitlement to, and control of, women bodies.
The economics matter, too. Rather than dismantling or being negligent to the dignity of women and girls, our current neo-liberal economic model perpetuates the exploitation and abuse of women – without economic autonomy women have no way to escape cycles of violence (PDF).
Our societies depend on the disproportionate amount of unpaid care work that women do, yet these societies fail to value or redistribute it appropriately
And it is women who provide the majority of cheap labour to serve the global economy. So many women are trapped in jobs with poverty wages and scant rights, facing the threat of violence, while the fruits of their labour are embezzled by men. That is why the women’s struggle is also a struggle against this current economic order.
Yet this patriarchal injustice can – and will – be overcome.
Enough is enough
It starts with us. Every single one of us has a responsibility to make the world an equal, healthy and just place for women and girls.
The discriminatory social norms that we know drive violence against women and girls can be challenged and changed.
When we hear sexist language or see sexist behaviours, we can intervene and say “enough”. This is one of the most effective ways to erode the normalisation of violence against women and girls.
In Latin America, we will be shouting until we are listened to: “If our bodies are not worth anything, produce without us.”
Decision-makers – in our governments, but also in corporations and in the mainstream media – must step up and lead by example. Indifference and empty rhetoric only keep the status quo alive. They must listen first and foremost to the voices of women’s rights movements working with women.
Governments must urgently bring harmful culture and tradition closer to international human rights, and dismantle the legal discriminations and barriers that keep and push women back – such as the 18 countries in which husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.
They must crucially add their voices to the widespread calls for a more human, more feminist economy. It is abhorrent that our current economic system has allowed only eight men to have as much wealth as the world’s poorest 3.6 billion citizens – the majority of whom are women.
And leaders everywhere must end the legal and social impunity that perpetrators and supporters of violence against women all too often enjoy, be they in politics, business, entertainment or elsewhere.
There is no corporate structure behind the strike. Together, we are part of a grassroots movement of women, women’s organisations and allies.
This solidarity most of all extends to women who wish to support the strike but are unable to – be it due to job insecurity, because they are fully burdened with unpaid care work, or as we know, in many cases, due to fear of violence and intimidation.
We are optimistic about change. More girls across the globe are completing primary education than ever before. Maternal deaths have fallen. There are more women in power.
While we are positive more change can come for the benefit of women and girls, all of this progress faces new threats – be it from economic inequality, climate change, religious fanaticism or anti-rights nationalism.
We have momentum. Women’s rights activism has long reverberated in villages and communities, much in the global South; we stand with those brave women. And striking works for women: just recently, plans to criminalise abortion and miscarriage in Poland were thwarted by a day-long strike led by women. While in South Korea, women protested against the introduction of higher penalties for doctors performing abortions.
Now is not the time to step back, but to continue marching forward with our heads and placards held high for all to see. Our world must be better than this. Not one woman less.
Agustina Paz Frontera is one of the founders #NiUnaMenos, a grassroots movement fighting to end violence against women and girls in Argentina and across other countries in Latin America.
Winnie Byanyima is a grassroots activist, human rights advocate, senior international public servant, world-recognised expert on women’s rights, and currently the executive director of Oxfam International.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.