Today is International Women’s Day

Published on March 8th, 2016

In Yvon Chouinard’s “Let my people go surfing / the education of a reluctant businessman,” the founder and owner of Patagonia, writes, “From the very beginning of our catalog, we have always tried to portray women as equal to men. When we showed women climbing, they were leading, not following.”

Patagonia catalog
Patagonia ambassador Lynn Hill, 1983
Photo: Rick Ridgeway

The Patagonia photos of women in all types of outdoor activity around the world from fishing, surfing and skiing to climbing – sometimes claiming a “first,” such as first female ascent of Pink Flamingo in the Utah desert – seen as a whole through the years, are a running chronicle of how women’s horizons have expanded so much in just the last 30 years.

I just happened to be reading Chouinard’s book last night and the chapter talking about how Patagonia evolved in its use of photography in the company, and it was timely as I was considering how to address International Women’s Day today, wanting to lead with the good news of progress on this day set aside to celebrate women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements. Women perform astounding feats every day. In South Africa, the predominantly female Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit works to protect rhino, antelope, cheetah and wild dogs, under increasing pressure from poachers.

In Jordan and other countries throughout the world, micro-loans are empowering women to start small businesses. And, female farmers are helping change their local communities, just to give a few examples of how women taking on new roles can create positive change.

But for all the progress, there is still so much to be achieved. Based on a study of 83 countries, women earn 10 to 30 percent less than men for the same work. That’s why this year’s International Women’s Day is focused on bringing attention to the need to accelerate gender parity in many parts of the world. According to the World Economic Forum, at the pace of change, the gender gap isn’t expected to close until 2133 – that’s more than 100 years!

This is perhaps not surprising given extreme negative situations in various parts of the globe. In 2014, 80 million people needed humanitarian assistance, and more than 75 percent of them were women in children. While all suffer in times of war, war impacts women differently, and conflict and instability seem to be ratcheting up worldwide. Syria, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Mexico are embroiled in ongoing and varying levels conflict. Read more about women and girls in conflict zones here.

As well, domestic violence continues to be a part of the lives of too many women, and the heinous practices of female genital mutilation, gender-related killings (femicides, honor killings), child brides and sex/slave trafficking continue in the 21st century. Further, an estimated 225 million women worldwide in 69 of the poorest countries do not have the basic human right to safe and effective family planning methods.

Clearly, these are no small issues. But to reduce poverty and achieve a sustainable society, we must empower women. Today is a day to start the discussion and think about what you can do. For ideas on how to help, go here.

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