Even after 100 years, gender inequalities persist across the world, particularly in South Asia, where many women face discrimination for religious and cultural reasons.
March 8 was originally called International Working Women's Day
International Women's Day was first observed 100 years ago. The idea was to celebrate women and promote gender equality, especially regarding access to education and work. However, inequalities persist across the world, particularly in South Asia, where women continue to face discrimination.
Gender equality and empowerment have yet to be achieved, says Anne Stenhammer, Regional Program Director for UN Women in South Asia, a new UN agency set up last year to address issues that affect women.
Women often do hard labour to generate extra income to feed their families
She paints a mixed picture of the situation on the subcontinent. "If I take for example women in conflict, I would say the situation for Nepal is good. Then Bangladesh is a very good example in terms of reduced maternal mortality. But on the other hand if I look on violence against women, the situation in Bangladesh is difficult."
She adds that although in India "women’s participation rate in work has increased, the quality of employment for women in terms of salary remains low."
"There is also an increase in the numbers of women in India who are getting infected by HIV and Aids," she says. "In Pakistan, women are still marginalized and the number of honor killings is still large."
Human trafficking in Nepal
Poverty forces many young girls from Nepal's villages to work in Kathmandu's dance bars and massage parlors
Although Nepal and to some extent India have reached one-third representation of women in parliaments by reserving seats for them, this is not enough says Janeit Gurung from Maiti Nepal, a women's organization.
"Women should be represented equally," she says, pointing out that religious and cultural traditions still have a huge impact on how society works.
"Although the constitution provides protection for women, including equal pay for equal work, the government has not taken significant action to implement this provision."
Every year, women all over the world call for more rights on International Women's Day
A survey carried out as part of the Youth Partnership Project of Maiti Nepal, shows that more and more young girls from Nepal's villages are being recruited to work in massage parlors and dance restaurants in the capital Kathmandu.
"Previously it was only cross-border - from Nepal to India - but now the dimensions of trafficking are vast and it has spread all over the Gulf countries," says Gurung. She says the girls are often "forced into the sex trade and exploited."
Traditional barriers impede women's empowerment
These girls are often unaware of their rights and are unlikely to seek legal support to protect themselves. The study concluded that instead of imposing bans which would leave many women unemployed and as a result more vulnerable, the regulation of these establishments should be reinforced.
UN Women's Anne Stenhammer says Asian women need to fight for empowerment at three levels: "individual, collective resistance and ideological change."
"That means that women should be able to develop into strong individuals. They should be able to have the support of their peer group and they should then be able to question social attitude in a meaningful manner."
UN Women points out that as the world celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of women on International Women's Day, it is also a time to focus attention on the challenges that continue to affect millions of them, 100 years after the day was first celebrated, and act.
Author: Sherpem Sherpa
Editor: Anne Thomas