International Women’s Day 2012

Today is the 101st International Women’s Day!

First emerging as a day of celebration from the activities of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe, socialist movements in various countries sought to champion women’s rights at the turn of the 20th century – particularly on the right to vote (see this short timeline of such developments).

The International Women’s Bill of Rights, as it’s commonly known (or the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) wins the ‘reservations race’ as it is deemed the single most suspicious piece of international human rights legislation ever by 63 countries across the world demanding reservations from certain articles. Typically this has to do with national rules that are in place already or with any potential conflicts with religious standards and laws. In many cases reservations have led to countries avoiding the job of translation essential elements of CEDAW into state laws and practice.

That 17 countries (Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iraq, Lesotho, Libya, Malaysia, Mauritius, Micronesia, Morocco, New Zealand, Niger, Singapore, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Egypt), for instance, have part or complete reservations to article 2 of CEDAW begs the question: is the purpose of the convention, as stated by this core article to reduce discrimination against women, damaged or even extinguished by direct reservations to it?

CEDAW, article 2: 

States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women and, to this end, undertake:

(a) To embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation if not yet incorporated therein and to ensure, through law and other appropriate means, the practical realization of this principle;

(b) To adopt appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discrimination against women;

(c) To establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and to ensure through competent national tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination;

(d) To refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation;

(e) To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise;

(f) To take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women;

(g) To repeal all national penal provisions which constitute discrimination against women.


In Ireland, the women’s rights movement challenged prevailing attitudes of the times such as the famous Irish Constitution 1937 provision article 41.2:

1° […] the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

2° The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.

Is this passage acknowledging the informal labour that women contribute to society or is it maintaining an outdated traditional division of gender roles?

This kind of question is not limited to Ireland. Jim Clarken in The Irish Times, for instance, reflects that

POVERTY HAS a female face. You are more likely to be poor, to go hungry, to be kept out of school, if you are female. You are less likely to own land or to have a voice in decisions affecting your life.

Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, produce half its food, yet earn only one-tenth of its income, and own less than 1 per cent of property.

The ‘development agenda’ has been going through something of a ‘women’s revolution’ in terms of the technical and programmatic deployment in recent years toward women as targeting the needs of women in crisis leads to better outcomes. A lot of detractors from the Millennium Development Goals had complained that gender equality should have been integrated into all of the goals and not just a single ‘equality goal’. That this kind of opinion is common among the international development community with only three years until the end of the MDG period is encouraging as it shows how far development programmes have come since 2000.

The premise of today, that women deserve the same rights and opportunities as men, does not sound particularly controversial. When put into some of the contexts such as the UN reservations system, traditional constitutional standards and ‘development agendas’ we begin to see some of the ongoing challenges that equality provides in private and public spaces such as access to parliament; equal access to the workplace; abortion rights; gender roles; violence against women; contraception; property rights; honour crimes; and quota systems.

Today is as much about the daily struggles of women battling for equality within the social structures and national barriers they have found themselves in with female campaigners such as Mary Robinson, Nawal El Saadawi and Vandana Shiva that have done so much for women’s rights, to name but a few.

As an annual event it is a good opportunity to reflect on gender equality in Ireland and elsewhere. After all, is International Women’s Day really only for one day of the year leaving all other days in the calendar for unofficial men’s days?


There are many ways that you can get involved in International Women’s Day. Here is a selection of some of things going on and that you can do:

  • Read up on and explore the We Are Equals campaign – a coalition of organisations set on challenging inequality and debating and celebrating International Women’s Day
  • Dublin City Council celebrate the contribution of women to civic life in Dublin City with a series of events throughout March including celebrating women in science (3 talks in 3 libraries), a walking tour “heads above the parapet” and a range of community and sports events
  • Check the official International Women’s Day website for 30 registered events taking place across Ireland

University events:

  • Events at NUI Galway, including a workshop on Gender Analysis of Budgets and the screening of Tomboy

  • A week long celebration in Trinity College Dublin with 20 different activities and events including talks from external and internal speakers, self defence classes and special art installations and an all day radio programme ‘Women on Air at Trinity FM