Every year, the world commemorates 8 March as International Women's Day as a day of celebrating and recognizing the progress, courage and determination of women globally. For the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, International Women’s Day is a day to reflect on our collective efforts to strengthen women's rights, provide access to and empower women to engage on issues of concern, and to address the continued impunity of perpetrators of grave crimes committed against women around the world.
International Women’s Day (IWD) owes its origins to the calls for transformation launched by international and national non-governmental organizations. The day was first observed in 1908 when women in New York marched to protest against inequality in the work space. They demanded the right to vote, better pay, and shorter working hours.
International Women’s Day became an officially recognized event when the United Nations began marking 8 March as such in 1975. Since then, on this day, women and men in the world over, raise their voices for equality, access to rights and justice, and against violence and discrimination.
This International Women's day, the Coalition for the ICC is focusing on a new initiative to promote gender equality and justice for sexual and gender-based crimes – the newly-launched Hague chapter of the International Gender Champions (IGC). On 5 February 2019, the IGC welcomed the establishment of a new Hague chapter at an event hosted at the International Criminal Court. The Hague chapter of the International Gender Champions network includes many Ambassadors and heads of organizations – including the Convenor of the Coalition of the ICC, Mr. William Pace - actively engaged in ending impunity for international crimes, which often disproportionally affect women and girls
For International Women’s Day 2019, the Coalition for the ICC reached out to a few Hague chapter International Gender Champions to hear from them how they view the progress made so far, and what still remains to be done to ensure gender equality and justice. Here is a summary on what they had to say on International Women’s Day 2019
1. What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
Melinda Reed, Executive Director, Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice: “International Women’s Day is a day for all of us to take stock of the global movement for women’s rights, and to recognize that even today is 2019, there is still a significant need for a movement to seek equality for women.”
Kathryne Bomberger, Director-General, International Commission on Missing Persons: “On International Women’s Day, it is important to remember – and express solidarity with – the huge numbers of women around the world who are struggling to access their rights, in the case of women who have lost family members, these include the right to truth, to justice and to reparations.”
Janne E. Nijman, Academic Director and Member of the Board, T.M.C. Asser Instituut: “Every year, International Women’s Day reminds me of how much work we still need to do to reach complete gender equality.” “Women are more prone to become victims of violence and early deaths. Women live longer than men but spend fewer years in good health. Women earn less than men, have less access to healthcare and education, and they are not equally represented in the economic, political and academic realms.”
2. What is the most pressing issue for women in 2019?
One of the most urgent issues globally according to Janne E. Nijman is the need for women to be represented in politics. “Currently at the Asser Institute, we are doing a research project on Global cities and international law. To give you a practical example: men and women use cities in different ways. But urban and public space planning in cities is largely gender neutral. This has an immediate effect on women’s lives, on how long they have to travel to work, how safe they are on the streets at night, how easy it is to reach school or a doctor. To address these issues, and change them for the better, women have to make their voices heard to bring it this gender sensitivity in urban as well as global politics.”
According to Melinda Reed, the most pressing issue for women in 2019 is “the continued culture of impunity for perpetrators of sexual and gender-based crimes, both nationally and internationally. Until there is accountability for these crimes, equality cannot be fully realized.”
Kathryne Bomberger feels that there are multiple pressing issues to be addressed if fundamental human rights are upheld. “The right response is to address crimes through the full and systematic application of the law, based on the obligation of states to investigate missing persons cases and to try to bring those responsible to justice. This may be said to apply across the full spectrum of rights violations, from these egregious examples involving mass murder, to issues such as wage discrimination.”
3. Is the gender equality gap narrowing or growing?
Kathryne Bomberger notes that “It is true that in many parts of the world, women have been empowered in the last 30 to 40 years – but in some parts of the world, there appears to be a reversion to or a consolidation of patriarchal values….The length of time before equality is achieved – at present rates – can only be viewed as rather dispiriting.”
Janne E. Nijman says, “According to the (World Bank) report, we still have a long, long way to close the equality gap. When I read studies like this, or when we debate the lack of women in boardrooms, for instance, it strikes me that we often look at gender inequality through a capitalist lens…Mary Beard (a Cambridge classicist) teaches us: we will never reach full equality by simply becoming available as workforce, if we do not change the way we think about authority, power and leadership as well. Progress requires a fundamental rethink of the nature of spoken authority. I think we should be careful about the commodification of gender equality.”
Melinda Reed stresses that, “whether the gap is bigger or smaller is less meaningful than whether a gap exists at all or not.”
4. As an International Gender Champion, what message would you like to send on International Women’s Day?
Melinda Reed: “My message on International Women’s Day is: the time is now. There is never a “good time” to challenge structural inequality, and we should build on the momentum of all of those strong women before us to keep moving forward.”
Kathryne Bomberger: “Families of the missing are striving all over the world to access their fundamental right – to truth, to justice and to reparations. We must support them through advocacy and education and above all by upholding the rule of law.” -
Janne E. Nijman: “The message I would like to give to every girl in this world is: seize all the opportunities you get, jump in, don't be shy and learn to use your voice publicly. Have self-confidence, and do realise that we do want to listen to you and want to hear you. Speaking up carries a responsibility too, so use your voice with compassion, and think long-term, taking into account the interests of future generations. My message to everybody else would be: please, listen when women use their voices. Even when they might sound different to yours.”