International Women’s Day (IWD) has been taking place, across the world, for over 100 years. It is recognized by the UN as an opportunity to “reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women”. Worldwide 8th March sees tremendous heterogeneity in the ways individuals, communities, governments, CSOs and academia choose to commemorate it. We have seen marches as well strikes and protests, that call for gender equality. Academic institutions often focus on research, publications and dissemination with relevance to the year’s theme. Governments often review progress made, or launch new initiatives to reinvigorate their engagement and work on gender equality.
GAGE research can contribute to the measurement and analysis of what progress has been made so far – as well as to the discussion of what other measures, including policies and programmes, are necessary to advance gender equality, and in particular, the empowerment of adolescent girls.
Over the last few days we have spoken to our Research Uptake and Impact Coordinators from Nepal, Rwanda and Ethiopia in order to understand how IWD is being commemorated in different contexts.
- International Women's Day is commemorated across the world on March the 8th. From your work, how is this day celebrated or commemorated?
Sudeep Uprety: Nepal is celebrating International Women’s Day through various events organised at the national and sub-national level. The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MoWCSW) and the National Women Commission are taking leadership in organising events, supported by external development partners and other NGOs and groups. Activities include a national address by the President, rallies, street plays, radio shows, round-table discussions, photo stories, special coverage in electronic and print media, blogs, among others. Various champions who have contributed for gender equality are also recognised/awarded on this day.
As GAGE we will participate in some of these events in order to highlight the need for more data and evidence, and its utilisation, to inform the policies and programmes to narrow the existing gender gap - particularly interventions that specifically target adolescent girls.
Roberte Isimbi: Rwanda is commemorating the IWD for the 43rd time. This year the celebration will take place at sector level - the second smallest administrative unit with the objective to promote skills development for job creation through technical and vocational education and training (TVET). There will be speeches and women's cooperatives will be given start-up kits for their businesses.
Workneh Yadete: The Ethiopian Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs has made extensive preparations to celebrate IWD throughout the country. At the national level, the slogan for this year is "the efforts of all stakeholders are crucial to ensure the participation and benefits of Women."
- Are there themes that appear particularly popular this year? Do adolescent girls feature at all? How might some of the themes be relevant to adolescent girls?
Sudeep: For IWD 2018 the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MoWCSW) has come up with the national slogan "social awareness through economic empowerment, transformation of lives of rural and urban women", in line with this year’s UN theme: "Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women's Lives".
Most UN agencies and development partners in Nepal have communicated messages in line with the global theme. For the Nepalese government the economic empowerment of those living in rural areas seem to be high on the agenda.
Adolescent girls have not featured prominently in the agendas of the government or the development organisations. An exception is Martin Chautari, a renowned research organisation which is organising a discussion on March 18th about the struggles of adolescent girls growing up in the remote mountainous region of Dolpo, Nepal.
The Bodily integrity theme may also feature prominently this year, given recent events in Nepal, and with the #RageAgainstRape campaign trending on Twitter.
Isimbi: This year, in Rwanda, the focus is on TVET and preparations have included a focus on the psychosocial, legal and financial support to vulnerable women group including teen mothers. The theme is relevant to adolescent girls - considering how they access TVET schools. Studies have shown that female adolescents are channelled to enter trades associated with women’s traditional roles, which are less lucrative than those which are male dominated.
Workneh: The Ethiopian government is raising awareness on the following issues: improving the rights of girls and women by eliminating harmful traditional practices; increased access to savings and credit; fighting cervical and breast cancer and increasing the number of women who donate blood.
- What are some of the events and actions that (a) the government (b) international NGOs (c) the UN and (d) civil society are planning?
Sudeep: The MoWCSW and the National Women’s Commission are conducting a national celebration, joined by various civil society organisations, NGOs, advocacy groups and others.
Isimbi: In Rwanda, the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion and the National Women's Council are planning a celebration in the Southern Province, Muhanga District. They will host testimonies of women achievers, exhibit women-led initiatives, hold discussions around existing economic empowerment opportunities as well as fundraise to provide support to vulnerable women. The INGOs, the UN and other stakeholders will all support these activities.
- Where do you think we as the GAGE programme can support with evidence to progress some of these themes/agendas?
Despite some change, our formative research shows that discriminatory gendered norms and practices around child marriage, son preference, the limited voice and agency of girls and expectations around their subservience, persist.
Sudeep: The GAGE programme’s longitudinal approach provides a unique opportunity to develop rigorous evidence to understand the transitions in adolescent girls’ lives in diverse settings. Our impact evaluation design allows us to explore ‘what works’ to support the progress of adolescent girls in each specific country context. Finally, our strategic research uptake approach supports the communication and brokering of our evidence to decision-makers in order to inform and improve investments in girls.
Our formative research in Rwanda, highlighted that adolescents have insufficient access to accurate information about puberty and sexual and reproductive health. In particular, girls are reaching physical maturity without adequate information and services to allow them to thrive. Adolescents need timely access to accurate, age-appropriate information and services.
Isimibi: Given the focus of IWD initiatives in Rwanda, and the findings in our formative qualitative work, I would suggest that we give particular attention to the issue of teenage pregnancy in our future data collection efforts. Through rigorous research about what works we can better support evidence-based solutions that improve girls’ lives.
As GAGE we know that context is key to understanding how different people engage with research, policies, programmes. For IWD we will be launching a twitter campaign, showcasing how our tremendously varied consortium members engage with IWD – and the role of research in this years’ priorities of #pressforchange and #timeisnow – rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives. Follow us on @GAGE_programme to see what our members say!