Celebrating 110 years of activism
International Women’s Day is a day of celebration and activism. It is a time to reflect on and acknowledge the outstanding contributions of women across the globe in all areas of human endeavor. It’s also a time to build on the progress made and push toward greater health equity and gender equality.
International Women’s Day, originally called International Working Women’s Day, is celebrated on March 8. The first National Women’s Day was observed in 1909 in the United States (the first International Women’s Day was observed in Europe in 1911), and at that time, women were advocating for the right to vote, for decent working conditions and fair wages, and to hold public office. In 1975, International Women’s Day was adopted by the United Nations, and it is now celebrated in more than 100 countries and is an official holiday in diverse countries ranging from Afghanistan to Zambia.
Women have continued to advocate for their rights (political, social, education, economic, and health) over the past 110 years, and enormous gains have been made. For example, today there are more women leaders of government and heads of state than ever before; close to three-quarters of female presidents and prime ministers entered office in the last 20 years. In terms of education, more girls are in school than ever before, and female literacy rates have increased in almost every country in the world. More women in more countries have access to reproductive health services, and access to contraception has increased throughout the world. This is good news; the trends are in the right direction. However, health inequities persist by geography and socioeconomic status. For example, almost all maternal deaths every year occur in the developing world, or in low-income areas and populations in some developed countries such as the United States. Access to high-quality health services remains limited for the poorest women in the poorest settings, in both low-income and high-income countries. There are still more than 200 million women who want to avoid or delay pregnancy but are not using contraception.
As a global health organization, PATH focuses on improving health equity and harnessing the power of innovation to improve health outcomes. By ensuring access to innovation, we seek to level the playing field so that good health is in reach for all. At PATH, we believe that sexual and reproductive health is a fundamental pillar of women’s rights and is essential for women’s empowerment. Our work to improve the sexual and reproductive health of women (and men) stretches back to our inception in 1977, when PATH was founded to improve the quality of and accessibility to contraceptive products. Over the last four decades, we have continued to build on that foundation, developing a range of tools and technologies that enable women and their partners to safely and effectively meet their reproductive health needs. We work with governments, private sector entities, and civil society partners to ensure that innovations reach those who need them most. Our current work includes efforts to prevent cervical cancer, interventions to expand contraceptive method mix, and strategies to enhance self-care. At the same time, we are working to improve basic health literacy, a fundamental step in building women’s agency and decision-making autonomy. Ultimately, our goal is for women to have self-determined choice about their health and their bodies.
International Women’s Day is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in all aspects of society on an equal footing with men. At PATH, we continue to work as women around the world have done for decades: with optimism and grit.