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International Women's Day: A lot done, a lot more to do, say participants

Women protesting for equal rights at the Paris march marking International Women's Day, March 8, 2019.
Women protesting for equal rights at the Paris march marking International Women's Day, March 8, 2019. RFI/Jan van der Made

As the world marked International Women’s Day, Friday 8 March, France awarded its inaugural Simone Veil Prize in honour of the revered politician and Holocaust survivor who died in 2017.


The prize, along with a purse of €100,000 was awaded to Cameroonian woman Aissa Doumara Ngatansou, who runs an organisation that helps victimes of rape and forces marriage in Cameroon.

International Women's Day in Paris, March 8th, 2019

Ngatansou said she dedicated the award "with much emotion” to all the women victims of violence and forced marriage and to the survivors of the Nigerian insurgency group Boko Haram – whose activity has also spread to Cameroon.

French president Emmanuel Macron also pledged 120 million euros in support of the fight against violence and discrimination in the world, and said he hoped that as president of the G7, France could help advance women's rights in 2019.

There was also a demonstration in Paris by women seeking fair treatment at work. RFI's Jan van der Made talked to some of the woman who were there:

Elsewhere, Irele Modupe Enitan, Nigeria's ambassador to France said Thursday at lunch for female ambassadors in the French capital that Women should be brave enough to fight with the men for the same positions “because we’re not any less qualified”.

"Women are used to being helpers, people who assist their husbands and not putting themselves forward," says Irele Modupe Enitan.

"That is one barrier that has to be broken," she told RFI on the sidelines of a Women's Ambassador's conference at the French National Assembly Thursday.

Breaking barriers

For Jessica Bennett, who made headlines in 2017 by becoming the first ‘gender editor’ of The New York Times, equality should be pursued everywhere. Her role, for example, focuses on closing the gap in male-female reading habits for neewspapers.

The task is a tall one. The media, and The New York Times is no exception, has long been dominated by men, who design and define policies and agendas, including how women are portrayed. The creation of a gender editor is designed to break this ingrained patriarchy.

However, there is a lot to be done, according to the Paris-based organization Internet Without Borders. In research it published for Internaitonal Women’s Day nearly half of women polled across English and French-speaking countries in West and Central Africa, have experienced gender-based violence while using social media, indirectly pushing them out of that media, according to a study conducted across 18 countries in both of those regions.

“The sense of insecurity online plays a role in the digital divide between men and women: experiences of online violence do not motivate women to stay connected and give a negative bias to those who are yet to join,” according to a statement by Internet Without Borders, a Paris-based group that fights for digital rights, against digital repression and oppression.

In Africa, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Lindiwe Sisulu told RFI English, women must be at the centre of conflict resolution and mediation because peace cannot be achieved without the participation of women.

On this day, let us remember those women who are toiling under very difficult circumstances in conflict situations. Women are seldom the instigators of violence, but they suffer the most as victims of war and instability”, said Sisulu.

Women only constituted two percent of mediators, and eight percent of peace negotiators between 1990 and 2017, according to statistics furnished by the United Nations.

In 1911, International Women’s Day was marked for the first time by more than a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. It has since grown into an festival of marches, ideas and celebrations. This year's theme is #BalanceforBetter.

A French public opinion poll Sunday found that Simone Veil, a former health minister who defended the 1975 law on the legalization of abortion in France, tops the list of personalities who "embody feminism the most”. Veil defeated Michelle Obama and Simone de Beauvoir to take the top spot.

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