International Women’s Day: Have We Come a Long Enough Way, Baby?
Though women have significant leaps, activist Hibaaq Osman says the road ahead for many women across the globe is long and winding.
Whether you call the bustling city of Manhattan home like BettyConfidential, or dwell thousands of miles away in a small town, March 8 is an exceedingly important day for us all. International Women’s Day (IWD) has garnered significant attention from its formation in the early 1900s, especially after the terrible Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
Though we’ve come quite a long way since the days when managers herded young women into factory buildings and locked the exits, much still needs to be done. According to findings by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women in the United States earn 23 percent less than men for comparable work. Meanwhile, raped women in Afghanistan –like the teenaged Gulnaz –are being arrested for adultery.
That’s where Karama steps in. Headed by prominent women’s rights activist Hibaaq Osman, the Cairo-based organization aims to end violence against women, particularly those in the Middle East and North Africa. A group from Karama, which means “dignity” in Arabic, convened at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from February 27 through March 4, 2012 to urge authorities to support Middle Eastern women. Osman was at the front and center, spearheading these discussions.
Boasting achievements that have prompted former President Bill Clinton to offer his congratulations, you know this leader of three women-focused organizations means business.
Osman told us in an exclusive interview at the March 2, 2012 delegation addressing women’s rights and the Arab Spring that women aren’t at the forefront of leaders’ minds, but rather, “in the middle.”
“But how can you not invest in us?” she asks. “We are the backbone of society. Studies show that when women prosper, so does society. If you invest in women, you invest in family. When I go to my own country in Somalia and I give support, I am supporting a family. The women buy shoes for the children and make sure they go to school. If I give it to a man, I know from experience he will go out and enjoy life with his friends. The point is that women are responsible for society –we are the center of society.”
And increasingly, oppressed women are demanding that their voices be heard. The Arab Spring, also fittingly known as the “Arab Uprisings” or the “Arab Awakening,” has been raging through the Middle East and North Africa since 2010. As of February 2012, these protests have been responsible for the overthrow of four oppressive regimes in these regions.
“We need each other,” Osman explains. “We need to learn through networking, talking to each other, and communicating with each other. Everyone from the East to the West today is talking about freedom and dignity and justice. But we need to make sure there is an outlet on the international level and solidarity. They still need the outside support.”