Malala & International Women’s Day

March 8 is International Women’s Day and this year the United Nations’ theme is Inspiring change.

This week I have written a Sightsavers press release myself to commemorate the day, and as well as monitoring Sightsavers in the news, I have been reading many news stories detailing events and key notes speeches marking International Women’s Day.

Justine Greening gave a key note speech at the Transform Her Future event.

Greening said:

greening“I want to issue a challenge to everyone here, NGOs, charities, activists, businesses to help us bring Early and Forced Marriage up the global agenda in 2014 and then to keep on pushing.These are complex issues and we need to work with lots of organisations and partners.”

Click here to see tweets and videos from the UK government on International Women’s Day.

Greening’s key note speech focussed on two issues;

1. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

2. Early and Forced Marriage (EFM)

She said

“The first step to tackling EFM and FGM is to make sure the international community is speaking with one voice. Every year 14 million girls and women are forced to marry early or against their will. When a girl cannot decide for herself when to marry and have children, it’s not just a tragedy for her, it’s a disaster for development (Greening 2014).”

She also highlighted the international development gender equality bill which is poised to become law. This Bill will ensure that from now on the Department for International Development is legally obliged to consider gender equality before giving assistance anywhere in the world.

Greening mentioned two girls calling them a powerful force for change.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school girl shot by the Taliban for going to school and Fahma Mohamed who got more than 250,000 signatures to her petition urging the Government to write to all schools about Female Genital Mutilation.

Both girls are influential ambassadors for gender equality movements and unlike the celebrity ambassadors I discussed last week, they are not white, not Hollywood stars and they are not yet adults (both are under 18).

malalaOn International Women’s Day itself, Malala will speak at the WOW Women of the World 2014 event at London’s South Bank Centre. She will talk about the relationship between Pakistani and British societies, and how harmful it is for western countries to be complacent or blind to their own injustices.

The Malala Fund is changing the lives of young girls around the globe and yesterday the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon called Fahma Mohamed “an inspiration” giving credit to her FGM campaign.

Reading about both Malala and Fahma makes me wonder… Is the British public more likely to be persuaded to take an interest in development issues by people who have suffered themselves? Or by Hollywood stars?

Read more about International Women’s Day on the Guardian’s Global Development Network.

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