Thursday is International Women's Day, which was first celebrated in 1911 in Austria-Hungary, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland – were one million men and women attended rallies to demand amongst other things voting rights and equal pay. On our planet women perform around 66% of the work, are responsible for the production of 50% of our planets food yet take home around 10% of overall income and own around 1% of the worlds property. When it comes to elected representation worldwide barely 19% of the world's parliamentary seats are held by women, around 16% of the world's elected political leaders are women.
Other statistics are grimmer - more women (between the age of 15 and 44) die as result of violence against them, than die of cancer, malaria, road accidents and war. One in five women will become victim of rape, attempted rape and one in four will experience domestic violence. Clearly a great deal needs to be done before women can enjoy the fruits of their labour, have personal security, and collect their long overdue financial and political rewards.
The United Nations theme for International Women's Day 2012 is "Empower Rural Women — End Hunger and Poverty." Even where political liberation is taking place and dictatorships are falling, women's rights are not necessarily secure, as this BBC Newsnight Report on the Egyptian revolution clearly shows:
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, who is preparing the ground to negotiate with the Taliban has commissioned the Ulema Council (Afghanistan's top religious council) to produce a statement which outlines the rights and duties of women under Islam. The council has said that women should not mix with men in school, work or other aspects of daily life and has also said that women should not travel without a male relative.
Outside observers and Afghan women's rights campaigners believe that the release of this statement is no co-incidence, merely part of the president's efforts to cut a deal with the Taliban. Clearly we have come long way from the days when Laura Bush spoke out against the Taliban's oppression of Afghan women, and for Afghan women we may be going nowhere good.