Message from Director General

Celebrating 100 Years of International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2011

Kathmandu, 8 March 2011


Each year, International Women’s Day is celebrated around the globe in recognition of women’s achievements and agency. It is an occasion to reflect on past struggles and victories, consider where we are now, and strategise about the future opportunities and challenges that await us. This year marks the 100th year celebration of International Women’s Day, with special events and celebrations taking place in full force around the world. This historic day gives us the opportunity to highlight women’s successes over a century of struggle and activism, as well as the challenges that still need our special attention and action. 

Over the past century, women have come a long way, and this is reflected in the celebration of International Women’s Day over time. The Day first emerged from labour movements across North America and Europe in the early 1900s during an era marked by massive changes in industrialisation, politics, and ideologies. This was also a time when women were increasingly agitating for equal rights, representation, and voice. Politically active women, known as suffragists, protested and fought for better working conditions, equal pay, shorter work hours, and voting rights. Following a historical agreement at an international socialist Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen in 1910, over one-hundred women from 17 countries, including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, unanimously agreed to establish an international women’s day to honour the movement for women’s rights and to achieve universal suffrage for women. As a result of the Copenhagen agreement, International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911. The Day pre-dates the formation of the UN, which officially recognised and designated March 8th as International Women’s Day in 1975, further establishing its international importance. However, many struggles remain for women including unequal pay; lack of equal representation and decision-making; limited and inequitable access and control over critical resources such as health, education, and financial and natural assets; and gender-based violence.

Since its early days, International Women’s Day has increasingly gained international momentum and recognition as an important day for honouring women’s achievements as well as a reminder of the struggles that remain to gain women’s equality and advancement in all spheres of life. Annually, thousands of events are held across the globe, and it is an official holiday in 27 countries, including those in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas (for example, Afghanistan, and China and Nepal where the holiday is observed by women).

In the Hindu Kush-Himalayas, women continue to face challenges in terms of the recognition and implementation of their rights as human rights. Although women have unique knowledge, and play a critical role in managing and sustaining their environments, they do so in contexts where their rights, roles, and contributions are not always recognised or respected, and sometimes ignored altogether. While significant gains have been made in women’s representation in decision and policy-making, and access to education, healthcare, and others, these gains are unequally distributed and vary from country to country. For example, the illiteracy rates among women have decreased in the past decade in all regional member countries but at different rates: in Pakistan, they went down from 72% in 2000 to 60% in 2008; in Nepal, from 76% to 55% over the same period. In terms of power in governance in the region, women’s participation in the lower chambers of government increased from 5% in 1995 to 16% in 2009. In Nepal, women’s participation increased from 6% in 2000 to 33% in 2010, and in Bangladesh it increased from 11% to 19%. Despite these notable gains, much work still remains in women’s political participation, decision-making, and equitable access and control over resources in real terms, as well as issues related to women’s rights as human rights, including struggles against early forced marriages, ‘honour’-killings, dowry deaths, trafficking, and gender-based violence. Other issues contribute to discrimination against women, and these place the natural environment in jeopardy, as much of the region relies on women’s knowledge, labour, and agency for its sustenance, conservation, and protection. The inequitable gender division of labour, lack of protection of women’s property rights, and limited access to critical natural and development resources, render women in difficult and inequitable positions compared to men. This is despite the fact that in Southern Asia, women make up 55% of the agricultural workforce compared to 32% of men. These inequities are further exacerbated by high rates of male out-migration, climate change, land use change and globalisation processes, whereby women disadvantaged by age, class, caste, marital status and other domains of difference, sometimes find themselves even in worse positions. 

Women play a critical role in all spheres of life, including business, education, health, agriculture, science, arts, culture, and the management of land, water, and the environment. Given their gender roles in ensuring access to water, food, fuel, medicinal plants, and so on, they often have more nuanced knowledge of their environments and natural resources. Women have important knowledge about the land, the environment, and natural resources that is inextricably intertwined with spiritual, political-economic and socio-cultural domains of life. The celebration, recognition, and involvement of women in sustainable development and management of natural resources in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas is of critical importance as we move towards a more sustainable and equitable world. 

We hope that this year’s Centennial celebration of International Women’s Day will help to increase the awareness of the central importance and the role women play in all spheres of life, in this region and the rest of the globe. We hope it will motivate all citizens, women and men alike, to recognise and celebrate women’s achievements, agency, and knowledge towards a more sustainable world. We trust that the Day will encourage organisations towards the equitable inclusion and integration of women at all levels and issues, and push for gender positive change.     

More information on International Women’s Day is available at: 

With best wishes for a happy International Women’s Day,

Andreas Schild