International Women's Day 2016: How Do We Achieve Parity?

07/08/2016_International Womens Day
Victims of sexual abuse who took part in a project ahead of International Women's Day hold hands in Jerusalem. Women and men around the world are pledging to strive for gender parity. Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

It's International Women's Day on Tuesday, and campaigners, politicians and businesses around the world are uniting around the theme "pledge for parity," to discuss how best to achieve equality between men and women across the globe.

To mark the day, we've asked six women to give us one idea they think would, if carried out, make the world a better place for women.

Talk about sex

Mona Eltahawy—author of Headscarves and Hymens

Talking about sex, sharing our knowledge of sex and insisting on our rights as women—especially those of us from conservative backgrounds—would make life better for all girls and women.

Saying, emphatically, "I own my body" makes the fight against FGM, marital rape, street sexual harassment and attempts by conservatives and religious zealots around the world against a woman's right to a safe and legal abortion, a woman's right to choose if she has children at all, revolutionary acts.

Most importantly, "I own my body" means it's my right to have sex with whomever (with their consent, obviously), whenever, inside/outside marriage, with a woman or a man. The statement makes fighting homophobia a revolutionary act.

The more women talk about sex, unashamedly, the more we smash taboos and silences which hurt the most vulnerable—girls and women.

Commit to results

Jodi Nelson PhD—Senior Vice President, Policy & Practice, International Rescue Committee

For some 30 million conflict-affected women and girls around the world, the rhetoric of equal opportunity does not translate into reality. Women and girls often face a double or even triple threat in conflict and displacement settings. They are at increased risk of rape, sexual exploitation, early and forced marriage. More than half of the world's maternal deaths occur in conflict-affected and fragile states.

But the news isn't all bad. The International Rescue Committee has had the fortune to work with women living in these settings for decades. We know that there is an enormous amount that can be done to tackle the issues that perpetuate gender based violence and undermine gender equality. First, especially during the height of humanitarian crises, women need access to survivor services including both primary and mental health care. Second, improving outcomes for women's education and income is essential to their wellbeing and must be equally prioritized. Finally, empowerment is critical and multi-faceted. Our research from Burundi, for example, shows that social and economic activities combined can increase women's household decision making power and, as a result, decrease violence in the home.

While IRC and many of our peer agencies and partners implement high quality programs to support women in conflict, there remains a substantial gap between the scale of women's needs and the current international response. As a first step to closing this gap, we need to increase our accountability to women and girls by defining and aligning on common outcomes related to their health, education, safety, empowerment and economic well-being. We need to continue to measure all of our progress and invest in evidence about what works best to achieve these results and at what cost. It is only with a real commitment to results that we can help women and girls living in war regain control over their lives and develop solutions for their future.

Equal Paternity Rights

Jess Phillips—U.K. Labour Party MP

Equal paternity rights for men would make women's lives better. If men were entitled to exactly the same as women when their babies were born (6 weeks at 90 percent pay and 33 weeks at statutory paternity rates in the U.K.), eventually we would narrow the gender pay gap.

This should not be instead of mothers' leave entitlement but as well as. Each parent should be able to choose a time in the first three years of their child's life when they wanted their individual leave. This would reduce the cost of childcare, giving two parent families 18 months of time off work.

A childcare subsidy specifically for single parent families to make up the additional nine months they miss out on could even the playing field. It would stop childcare costs always being seen in terms of women's wages (or lack of). It would mean that both men and women took career breaks and would end the penalties which currently fall on women for doing this.

This change would mean that in a job interview women of a certain age would be judged exactly the same as their male counterparts, who would now also face questions like "do you have any children?." Both men and women would be considered a similar risk. The change would teach our children that caring is both parents' jobs, as is breadwinning. My husband would have leapt at the chance to take leave to raise his kids. He is pretty brilliant, but I don't think he is that rare.

Financial empowerment

Vicky Pryce—Chief Economic Advisor at CEBR

Women need to be financially empowered this is the only way to achieve equality. They need free childcare to allow them to work and earn and there should be quotas for women across the board for senior executive positions and in politics and society more generally.

No countries that I know have quotas for executive positionsbut most Nordic countries have quotas for boards (and political positions), though that gets you only partly there. There is still a huge amount to do to increase the number of female chief executives in those countries, which remains low. But women are encouraged to return to the workplace through very generous parental leave and seriously subsidised childcare. Norway has board targets for listed companies (40 percent) and Iceland and Finland have similar targets. Sweden has a big childcare subsidy.

In my view you need bothquotas in senior management positions to change culture and free or at least affordable childcare that in the end pays for itself through the taxes paid by women at work and the higher earnings they haveas well as being less of a drain on public finances.

Teach feminism in schools

Ms Afropolitan—African feminist blogger

Feminism should be taught in schools, that is, it should be included in history, social sciences, sports etc. Teaching girls about girls and women's history, as well as teaching them about their rights—to control their bodies, finances, choices etc. would make the world a far more progressive, interesting, and just place.

The reason this is especially important is because girls and boys who are taught to see themselves as equal are able to build more progressive societies in which citizens thrive to the greatest possible extent. Feminism being taught in schools would aid the realisation of girls' and women's rights.

It's my body

Catherine MurphyPolicy Advisor, Amnesty International

Amnesty International is campaigning to stop the control and criminalization of sexuality and reproduction.

It is unacceptable that in the twenty-first century governments still seek control of women's decisions, condoning child marriage and marital rape or outlawing sex outside marriage and same-sex sexual activity.

Roughly a quarter of the world's population live in countries with laws that either ban abortion entirely or allow it only it when a woman's life in danger. In El Salvador abortions are banned, and women jailed, even when the patient's life depends on it. In Ireland, it is only allowed if a woman is at risk of dying, meaning women who seek abortions are treated like criminals, stigmatized and forced to travel abroad.

We want governments to protect people's right to make decisions about their bodies and their lives without state control, fear, coercion or discrimination. Women should be able to tell their governments "back off, it is my body, and my rights."