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International Women’s Day, education and abuse of our girls

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Today is International Women’s Day, the 100th anniversary of the event which was first held on March 19, 1911, in Germany, as a socialist political event.

The idea of having an international women’s day was first put forward amidst rapid world industrialisation and economic expansion, which led to protests over working conditions.{{more}}

In the West, International Women’s Day (IWD) was first observed as a popular event after 1977, when the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.

The official theme of International Women’s Day 2011 is “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.”

It is interesting to note that in the same year that IWD is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a focus on the education of girls, the St. Vincent Girls’ High School is celebrating its 100th anniversary of educating young women in this country.

While girls and women in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have equal access to education at all levels, this achievement remains restricted in many parts of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia and Southern Asia.

However, providing access is not enough, a concept clearly understood by our government, which seeks, through various programmes, such as the school feeding programme, the book loan scheme and public assistance, to assist girls and boys burdened by poverty.

Efforts also need to continue to ensure that all our children, not just girls, have access to the same quality education. Not so long ago, only children attending a handful of secondary schools were given the opportunity to study the single sciences, especially Physics and Chemistry. This situation has improved somewhat, but still remains a challenge, as teachers in these key areas are not qualifying fast enough to fill the demand. Care also should be taken in our schools to ensure that the ‘gender-science stereotype’, which associates boys and men with mathematics and science, does not negatively impact our girls’ interest in these disciplines, and their self-assessment and performance as students.

Our women must be able to contribute equally to the development of science, technology and innovation, which enhance economic growth, job creation and general well-being in society.

Women who have had access to a good education and now hold positions of privilege and power in our society should be reminded that rights now taken for granted, such as equal pay for equal work, maternity leave, access to higher education, especially in male dominated fields, were fought for by women who came before.

Today’s women have a responsibility to ensure that less privileged girls and women in our society are assisted and protected against discrimination and abuse. That is why we need to speak up and demand that serious legislative changes be made to deal with the violence being perpetrated in our society against our girls and women. All the advances made in education and on the job will count for nought if we do not aggressively attack and bring to a halt the acts of rape, unlawful sexual intercourse, incest and domestic violence against our women and girls, which seem to be on the increase.

We carry a most disturbing story, on the front page of today’s edition, about a 10-year-old girl who was taken from the safety of her home and raped at knife point. This child’s life has been changed forever. Every effort should be made to get appropriate counselling for her, to lessen the psychological effects of her ordeal. As for the monster who did this to her, he must be found and made to feel the full weight of the law.