Celebrating International Women’s Day?

I’m sad to say that I did not know it was International Women’s Day today until yesterday. In my high school classes today several boys were collecting money to buy flowers and chocolates for their female classmates. I didn’t really understand why they were counting money until later in the day when someone mentioned to me that tomorrow was International Women’s Day. Then, suddenly it made sense why people were walking around with bouquets of flowers and there was a two-man band walking around campus singing and handing out cupcakes to all the women at the university. March 8th of every year is International Women’s Day and it is celebrated in many countries around the world. Somehow I missed this memo. I guess it is because in the United States we celebrate Women’s History (Herstory) Month. In Latin America, however, my newsfeed on facebook was exploding with status updates saying ‘Feliz dìa de la mujer!’ Here, it is much like an especially women-centric Valentine’s Day celebration.

This year’s UN theme is ‘Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty due to the critical role rural women play in agriculture and the limited access they have to services like healthcare, education, and gender equality. Michelle Bachelet, the current UN Women executive director and former Chilean President, said, in an address  for International Women’s Day, ‘full and equal participation in the political and economic arena is fundamental to democracy and justice, which people are demanding. Equal rights and opportunity underpin healthy economies and societies.’ And she’s right – without the equal participation and rights of women in Latin America and in the world, half of our population will remain in poverty.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)  of the United Nations (UN), rural women in Latin America and the Caribbean play an important role in food security. But they often work more and gain less than their male counterparts. For example, according to the FAO, Mexican women in rural areas work 89 hours weekly, 21 hours more than men. Although the women’s average income has risen from 69% in 1990 to 78% of men’s wages in 2008, I imagine the gap in wages between rural women and men is even greater.

Another problem facing Latin American women is their lack of titles on land – only 11% of women in Brazil, 22.4% in México, and 27% in Perú have titles. Gender equality is not only important for human rights but also because it poses a real cost for society in terms of agricultural production, food security, and economic growth. Women represent about 20% of the agricultural labor force in Latin America and about 58 million women live in rural zones.

In Latin America, as many celebrate the day with their sisters, mothers, grandmothers, and friends, by going to concerts or making dinner reservations, they should engage in serious conversations about the rights of women here and their roles in everyday life. Although women in Latin America are some of the most powerful in the world with 40% of the population being governed by women, they still suffer from gendered violence and inequality. So, instead of celebrating with chocolate and flowers, maybe think twice about the Latin American woman and where she fits into society.