Women have proven to be the backbone of our society. They are the mothers, the daughters, caregivers, nurturers, main breadwinners, bosses, political leaders, educators, and the ones we readily run to whenever we have a tummy or headache.

The contribution of women to our society is tremendously astounding and undeniable. This is why the harsh realities they face on a daily basis is not only inhumane but also unforgiveable.

These acts of injustice meted out towards women cannot be ignored.

Starting today until the March 13, 2013, Advocates, in collaboration with the Atlas Corps Fellowship program will be hosting an online event, “Young People Speak Out For Women’s Empowerment” to celebrate International Women’s Day. For the next few days, young people from around the world will share short videos discussing what women empowerment means to them and what they are most passionate about.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is, “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum.” Today not only celebrates the many victories women have accomplished over the years, but also highlights the myriad issues facing women and girls worldwide. The theme “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum” is quite fitting for this year’s celebrations, as the international community is working assiduously to ensure that women’s issues are prioritized in the post 2015 development agenda process.

In spite of the great progress we are celebrating today, we can’t shy away from the persistent challenges facing women. A global health snapshot of today’s young women shows that about 16 million adolescent girls give birth every year, most of whom live in low and middle-income countries. According to the World Health Organization in 2008, there were 21.6 million unsafe abortions worldwide and almost 14% of all unsafe abortions in developing countries occur among women under 20 years of age. Women account for 49% of all adults living with HIV and young women have a much greater risk of becoming infected with HIV than young men. Further, women continue to be the object of traditional harmful practices that violate their human rights. As many as 85 million to 115 million girls and women in the world have undergone some form of female genital mutilation and suffer from its adverse health effects.

The United Nations is currently commencing its fifty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York until March 15. It is my hope that during these meetings and through the course today, and beyond even that, stakeholders will engage in discussions around education for women, as women constitute more than 2/3 of the world illiterate population and out of school youth are women and girls. The UN and other international bodies will commit to eradicating over 140 million FMG procedures performed annual on young girls.

It is also my desire to finally see climate change experts accepting the correlation between climate change and women’s health. Women bear the greatest burden associated with the consequences of climate change. We sadly remember Haiti where many women and girls were raped, beaten, and forced into prostitution by UN Peacekeepers following the devastating 2010 earthquake or how women living in remote African villages face severely poor access to health care and services as a result of the effects of climate change on their environment and resources.

In the post 2015 development agenda discussions, we must prioritize a wide range of women’s issues, from access to sexual and reproductive health care and commodities for young women, including transwomen; access to equal educational opportunities; the right to experience a positive childhood without being forced into marriage; the right to have full control of their own bodies; and an empowering and enabling environment to end potential violent relationships.

As a young male and ally, today I celebrate my single mother; who, before departing this physical realm raised three children on her own with minimal assistance from anyone. I celebrate her smiles and warm touch that masked the pain she endured and the tears she bravely held back. Today, as a male I celebrate the many sacrifices my mother made to ensure that her children got the best education, that they remained polite and respectable to everyone regardless of the situation. Today March 8, I stand in solidarity with all my female friends who refuse to conform to society’s false concepts of what a woman should be, and the rights that are afforded to her.

So, as you go throughout today, call your mom, sister, aunt, daughter, coworker, friend or girlfriend and express your appreciation and recommitment to ensuring a better, safer and more progressive place for them and future generations of girls and women.

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Have a progressive, safe International Women’s Day!

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