#BalanceforBetter. That’s the theme of International Women’s Day 2019. But we respectfully disagree. Today, at the very least, is not a day for balance. Today, we are all women.
So said Riya William Yuyada, the dynamic young leader of Crown the Woman in South Sudan, when she spoke at the end of last year at the United Nations, recalling the placards carried by men who joined women on the march in her country. And that’s what we say today.
Just as today is not a day for balance, it is also not a day for patience. The needs of women and girls around the world are too pressing. The threats to the fabric of our society are too great. The opportunities to make a difference, before it is too late, are now.
Half-a-billion women and girls around the world lack sufficient nutrition and more than 15-million girls will never set foot in school. Women are paid 23% less than men and it will take 202 years to close the gender pay gap.
But the indignities and injustices do not stop there. One in three women has experienced violence and as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.
Sexual or physical violence triggers a range of health problems, from anxiety and depression to substance abuse. It hampers the ability of women and girls to get access to social services, including sexual and reproductive health services, and makes it almost impossible for young women to negotiate safer sex.
In sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls and young women (aged 15 to 24 years) accounted for 25% of HIV infections in 2017, despite being only 10% of the population.
But there is hope. From a few brave women to a courageous groundswell of hope and solidarity, the #MeToo and affiliated movements around the world are exposing entrenched power imbalances that are at the root of gender inequality, leading a process of social transformation. And men and boys are also taking part in this process of transformation.
In Namibia, the #BeFree movement, which is led by young people, is generating dynamic dialogues aimed at empowering young people with relevant tools and information so that each one, starting with himself or herself, is equipped to lead for change.
So, let us gather the courage and resolve (personal and, especially, political) that it takes for change to take hold everywhere — in our workplaces, in our communities, in our homes. And let us do that now. Just as Yuyada challenged us to do last year, we urge you not to remain loudly quiet. Rather, be quietly loud: shine a spotlight on gender inequality whenever you see it and celebrate success wherever it surfaces, whether it’s in a statehouse, a schoolhouse or a boardroom.
As we move ahead, starting today, led us commit ourselves to ensuring that every action we take will usher us closer to a world in which every girl and boy can fully enjoy their rights to health and education, in which every women and girl can live free from discrimination, harassment, violence and abuse, in which power and leadership is shared equally and in which each half of humanity respects and embraces the other half.
Today, we are all women. Tomorrow, #BalanceforBetter.
Monica Geingos is the first lady of Namibia and UNAids special advocate for young women and adolescent girls. Michel Sidibé is executive director of UNAids and under-secretary general of the United Nations