8 March 2022
Today, we celebrate International Women’s Day – an opportunity for us to salute the power and strength of women and girls around the world, and honor the role they play in our economies, our communities, and in our homes.
However, on this day of commemoration, the recognition of the power of women is not enough – today must also serve as a reminder of the various barriers that women around the world continue to face. Concrete action must be taken to safeguard their rights and lives: discriminatory laws must be eliminated; injustice must be met with tangible consequences; and harmful practices that perpetuate gender inequality must be ended.
We should recognize and celebrate the immense and incalculable role of women in our lives every single day, rather than only once per year, and constantly affirm our commitments to ensure that they have equitable access to all of the rights and opportunities afforded to us by our common humanity.
Over the past several decades, the international community has made strides in advancing the rights of women and girls, yet time and time again we witness that progress is fragile. This is most evident in the most recent humanitarian crises in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Ukraine, where once again women and girls are suffering or at risk of suffering disproportionately. These conflicts have seen rapid and widespread human rights setbacks that have reversed the progress made in protecting women’s rights. As Simone de Beauvoir rightly pointed out in her book, The Second Sex, “Never forget that a political, economic or religious crisis will be enough to call women’s rights into question. These rights are never acquired. You will have to remain vigilant throughout your lives.
My home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, has witnessed such atrocities for more than two and a half decades, and new waves of conflict are adding to the insecurity, further degrading the status of women. We stand in solidarity with all women and communities affected by these conflicts and urge the international community to respond with resolve. We hope that these calls for justice will not fall on deaf ears, and that they will be met with increased investment in programs that support women’s participation in politics, in the defense of human rights, and in other ways that combat inequality and discrimination.
In closing, and in celebration of today’s commemoration, I would like to share an excerpt from my book, “The Power of Women,” which is a tribute to the extraordinary women who have inspired and shaped me, and an homage to the strength of all women, individually and collectively:
“I dream of a society in which our mothers are recognized as the heroines they are, in which the girls born in our maternity wing are celebrated just as much as the boys, and in which women grow up without fearing violence. I hope for a world where women have the same opportunities for professional advancement and personal joy and fulfillment as men and where political power is shared equally… I also imagine a future when sexual assault is seen as a throwback to an earlier, more brutal era. I believe all of this is both desirable and possible. I believe that we can all make contributions as individuals and as collectives to make it happen. I believe in the power of women.”
On this International Women’s Day, I hope that my dreams will become the dreams of the entire international community, and that the recognition of the power of women will become universal.
Dr. Denis Mukwege