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Happy International Women's Day

Iraq, March 8, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Iraqi women represent 25 percent of members of parliament — they vote, they work and they have found ways to survive and maintain their families during the very difficult last seven years. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

I’m blogging again today to wish you all a Happy International Women’s Day.

The first International Women’s Day was celebrated 35 years ago, in 1975. The political and social landscape of the world we inhabit has changed dramatically in the last 35 years — old countries have disappeared and new ones have been created; the Internet and other technologies have transformed the way we work and live; and the role of women has grown and changed all over the world.

This year, the United Nations selected “Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities” for the International Women’s Day theme. In Iraq, this is a theme we can celebrate proudly.

Article 14 of the Iraqi constitution declares that “Iraqis are equal before the law without discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, origin, color, religion, creed, belief or opinion, or economic and social status.” Iraqi women represent 25 percent of members of parliament. They vote, they work and they have found ways to survive and maintain their families during the very difficult last seven years.

Iraqi women have not made these strides alone — each of these achievements was accomplished with the support of Iraqi men.

Mercy Corps’ Women’s Awareness and Inclusion program in the south and our Protecting Women through Education programs in north and central Iraq are examples of how we are supporting equal rights and equal opportunities. Access to basic education is a constitutional right for both Iraqi men and women. It is also one of the first steps towards helping women to recognize and access other opportunities.

In my opinion, celebrating International Women’s Day is not about separating women from men. It’s about taking a moment to recognize that women all over the world frequently struggle to survive, to care for their families and to achieve equal rights and equal opportunities in environments that don’t provide them access to their basic needs and rights. It is about recognizing that the barriers women struggle against to achieve those basic needs and rights are often different from the barriers that men face.

To me, it is about understanding that it will take the efforts of both men and women to level the playing field for our daughters, sisters, wives and mothers.

Please, take a moment today to recognize the women you work with, the women in your families and in your communities. Also acknowledge the men who support the women in your workplace, in your families and in your communities. It is only by working together than men and women throughout the world will achieve equal opportunities and rights for all people.