Archive for March 10th, 2009

red women's symbol with map of the world over it

2009 UN theme is: “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls”

UN Secretary-General’s Message on International Women’s Day (pdf file)

UN observances worldwide

List of IWD events in the UK and Ireland at


It may send feminists into a spin but the Vatican’s official newspaper has pronounced the washing machine more important for the liberation of women than the contraceptive Pill.

In a long editorial marking International Women’s Day, L’Osservatore Romano, the mouthpiece of the Roman Catholic Church, said washing machines had freed generations of women from the drudgery of housework.

“The washing machine and the emancipation of women: put in the powder, close the lid and relax,” said the broadsheet’s headline, above a black and white picture of two women in the 1950s admiring a front-loading machine.

“In the 20th century, what contributed most to the emancipation of western women?” asked the editorial.

“The debate is still open. Some say it was the pill, others the liberalisation of abortion, or being able to work outside the home. Others go even further: the washing machine.” The first rudimentary washing machines appeared as far back as 1767, noted the article, with the first electrical models being produced at the beginning of the 20th century.

The eulogy to a domestic convenience which most women in developed countries now take for granted quoted the words of the late American feminist, Betty Friedan, who in 1963 described “the sublime mystique to being able to change the bed sheets twice a week instead of once”.

While early models were expensive and unreliable, technology had improved to the point that there is now “the image of the super woman, smiling, made-up and radiant among the appliances of her house,” wrote the Vatican newspaper.

The article provoked an angry response from some commentators and politicians.

“Instead of entering into an abstract debate on gender, it would be better if L’Osservatore Romano discussed reality, such as the fear in which many women still live when they are in the streets and between the walls of their own homes,” Paola Concia, and MP from the opposition Democratic Party, told La Stampa newspaper.

March 8 is known globally as International Women’s Day, and it’s a day that is fast approaching. That name, “Women’s Day,” may offend some people and lead some men to ask – either seriously or in jest – “when’s ‘International Men’s Day?’” Don’t let the name fool you, I would reply. Men play a part in this very important day, too. This year’s theme, in fact, is “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls.” Did you catch that? “Women and men.” But a lot of men don’t want to recognize that they play a role in women’s issues as well. They would rather just blame the victims of violence against women and pretend they have no stake and no influence in the matter. I don’t beat my girlfriend so I’m doing my part – right? Wrong.

There are a number of things men can do to prevent violence against women. Robert Jensen – in his latest book, Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity – encourages men to join a pro-feminism organization if they want to help on a grassroots level. A simple request, yes, but one that fails to recognize men’s tenuous relationship with feminism. A lot of men are afraid of being labelled “feminists”: this is a problem. They incorrectly figure that only women can be feminists, that only victims can stand up for their own rights. While men may not be able to sympathize with the problems women face, they can still act as allies; there is nothing contradictory in a man embracing feminist ideology. In order for feminism to work, men must embrace it – the movement won’t fully accomplish its goals if half the population is fighting against, or is acting indifferent to, what the other half is trying to achieve.

Men generally figure that a man who accepts his femininity in any degree is a “queer” or a “pussy.” The very fact that many men consider these terms derogatory is a symptom of the problem: it shows that the emphasis on masculinity is overblown. Men generally believe that they have to act manly – for many this means being dominant, assertive and violent. But why? I think the thing most men fear is not what will happen if they act in not-so-manly ways; they fear what other men will think of them if they do. On the flip side, we have to acknowledge the fact that a small number of men will gladly label themselves “feminists”: this, too, is a problem. These men incorrectly figure that they should join the feminist crusade because women are weak or powerless and require a man’s help – and perhaps leadership – in the fight for their rights. Jensen refers to this as “white knight syndrome.” While it may sound innocent enough, this kind of mentality also works against real feminism.

Men have to learn to be unafraid of the feminist label without getting it in their heads that they’re somehow saving the day. They have to recognize women for who they really are: individuals equal to but different from men; individuals who, because of a number of factors, have to face a number of social challenges men don’t have to face; and individuals who are independent from men. While it looks like I may have painted all men with the same brush, I realize that all men are different and that not all men are bad, but the generalizations I’ve employed are for the most part accurate. While men may not be to blame for the condition they’re in, they do have some responsibility to change it. Furthermore, while they may not be directly or totally to blame for the condition women are in, they have some responsibility to change it, too. Face it – it’s true. And I believe there is no better time to embrace these two truths than on March 8, “International Women’s Day.”

At the occasion of Women’s Day, Breakthrough is inviting you to join the fight against domestic violence. Get involved with our campaign, Bell Bajao! (Ring the Bell), calling on men and boys to join women in bringing domestic violence to a halt.

Bell Bajao! is a high profile national campaign using innovative media outreach throughout India. Over 32 million people have heard the message through TV, radio and press. Through community leadership training and mobile video vans traveling 80,000 km across India, Bell Bajao! has encouraged unprecedented engagement on the ground. We want YOU to be part of the action to promote women’s rights.

Leading up to International Women’s Day on March 8, Breakthrough celebrates all those who are speaking out, through their actions, their beliefs, their music or art.

Join the blog action week from March 2 – 8 on and tell us your stories. Write about those people who support women’s rights either through their passion, their work or in their personal lives. My story is on this blog, read mine and tell me yours.

Stories can include photographs, videos and other visual elements to be posted online. Do include a short description of yourself as well (name, age, location, any additional details).

You’ll be also joined by some amazing male leaders like Bollywood actor and Bell Bajao ambassador Boman Irani. (

Notable author and former UN Undersecretary General Shashi Tharoor is writing…Fashion designer Sandeep Khosla is talking…Bell Bajao campaign creator Zenobia Pithawalla speaks out…Ad film director Bauddhayan Mukerji frames his views…activist Harish Sadani is taking a stand on The “Bell Bajao!” Blog ( You too can become an agent of change by sharing your story!

So, ring the bell and join Breakthrough in bringing domestic violence to a halt! Bell Bajao!

Kritika Dey

Sisters in arms

Iranian women’s presence in the social, political, and cultural arena is fairly recent. However, this movement, its progress and its impact, embraces much of Iran’s contemporary history.

Their struggles took shape at the beginning of the 20th century as a movement for the right to education and to visibility in social life.

This took on a more social and political character after the victory of the constitutionalist movement which, in spite of women’s involvement, still denied them the vote.

The first celebration of International Women’s Day in Iran took place in 1922 in the northern city of Rasht. A few years later, records show that celebrations took place publicly in 1928.

But, with the rise to power of Reza Khan in a 1921 coup, the genuine women’s movement faded and independent organisations gradually gave way to those controlled by the government.

There are no records of public events commemorating March 8 during his rule. However, International Women’s Day was celebrated privately in secret at some elite women’s homes.

In 1979, having fought against the Shah and his despotism shoulder to shoulder with men, enduring prison and torture for years under that regime, women were faced with the orders of the new revolutionary government.

The office of Ayatollah Khomeini announced the annulment of the law of family support to the courts and, for the first time, women were banned from becoming judges.

Khomeini later announced that women could work outside their houses, but they must observe full religious dress code – the hijab.

As a result of these declarations, International Women’s Day celebrations turned into widespread demonstrations in Tehran and other cities. This protest was met with violent reprisal from the supporters of compulsory Islamic hijab.

During the 1980s and first half of the ’90s, International Women’s Day was marked secretly in the homes of secular and intellectual women.

But after June 1997 and the election of the reformist government, March 8 celebrations became more widespread, although they was still being held in private.

The year 2000 was a turning point. Women’s rights campaigner Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani invited a group of women to openly and publicly celebrate March 8.

To the organisers’ surprise, more than a 1,000 people attended and the widespread news of the event grabbed society’s attention.

In the spring of that same year, women’s rights activists Shahla Lahiji and Mehrangiz Karthe were incarcerated after criticising their country’s political situation at a conference in Berlin.

The March 8 organising group launched a petition for the release of these two activists. This was the first time that a group of independent women had risen up to collect signatures and to demand the release of two jailed women.

This clearly was not to the liking of the men in the society, whether in the ruling circle or not. This in itself was a lesson for women on the necessity of the independent of activity of women.

The Women’s Cultural Centre is the offspring of this and other experiences of those years.

In 2001, the centre staged the biggest and most creative event of International Women’s Day at the Khaneh Honarmandan (Artist’s House).

In 2002 the centre focused its efforts on the rights of women as citizens and the right to free participation in civic gatherings, selecting Laleh Park as the location for the event.

The park gathering was conducted under heavy control by the police. This was the first time that an International Women’s Day event had been held in an open space in an atmosphere of defiance and protest.

From 2004 onwards, March 8 has become a focus for women’s resistance to injustice accompanied by increased intimidation by the Islamic state desperate to suppress the voices of women.

Celebrations planned for Laleh Park in that year were met by police violence when permits for the gathering where revoked one hour before it was scheduled to take place.

In 2006, Simin Behbahani, the ageing and freedom-fighting Iranian poet, was assaulted by police.

The following year, one week before March 8, 33 women activists were arrested in front of the revolution court.

This group had gathered in support of five of their friends who were on trial at the revolution court for participating in the June 12 protests of the previous year.

On March 8, a protest by female teachers and other freedom-loving women in front of the Islamic Majlis (Parliament) quickly turned to violence and a large number of participants were arrested.

On International Women’s Day last year, women returned to their homes again. Yet this time they were not small and private groups. This time their houses had become public places, but, unfortunately, even homes were not spared from the attack of the security forces.

One of the many events that were held on this day was organised by the Iranian Women’s Centre and The Feminist School.

Prior to the event, police tried to enter the house. Eventually, they arrested two of the school organisers along with the homeowner and took them to the police station. Despite that, the police were not able to break up the programme. The event was held under the pressure and control of security forces.

This year, March 8 is a day when the gaze of the world and the international community is fixed on Iranian women.

These women have obtained the international Simone de Beauvoir prize thanks to their tireless efforts in the One-Million Signatures Campaign. This prize does not belong to one or two people or even a few organisations.

It belongs to all women who have given meaning and purpose to the campaign by their membership, activities, articles, interviews, holding seminars and workshops and signing the campaign’s petition.

March 8 is when Iranian women, encouraged and appreciated by the international community on one hand and under internal threats and pressures on the other hand, celebrate this great day.

Mansoureh Shojaee is one of the key activists of the One-Million Signatures Campaign.

See also:

The Liberation Movement of Iranian Women – Year Zero

A Historical Document from Iran on the Occasion of the International Women’s Day on the 8th of March

On the 7th of March 1979, only weeks after the revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini ordered that women should only be allowed to enter public buildings dressed with a headscarf. After this – and on the occasion of the International Women’s Day on the 8th of March that year – there were numerous demonstrations against mandatory veiling. As a direct result of these demonstrations, the Islamists were forced to rescend their order, if only temporarily.

„The Liberation Movement of Iranian Women – Year Zero“ is the title of a film made by women of the French Politics and Psychoanalysis Group in 1979 in Iran. The film sought to convey the message of these Iranian women: „Freedom is neither an eastern nor a western concept – it is universal“.

At that time, the meaning and explosiveness of this slogan may not have been very clear to many in the West. But it summarizes in one sentence the critique of Islamism. It inverts Khomeini’s slogan: „Iran is neither eastern [meaning communist] nor western [capitalist], but Islamic“ and debunks this slogan as a fundamental attack against enlightenment and secular emancipation.

The highlight of this film is the statement of two veiled Muslim women, who justify their participation in this demonstration as fighting for the rights and freedoms of their daughters. Not only do they question the claim to power of the Islamists, they also dismiss entirely all concepts of cultural relativism which proclaim Islamic virtue-terror as folklore of the Orient.

The postmodern romanticizing in the West of Islam turns things upside down. It describes Islam in the language of the Islamists: as innocent in nature and as a patron saint against pornography and western imperialism. Western cultural relativists, who see themselves as feminists, are the ones who invent justifications for Islamic rule that grow more absurd by the day. Already in 1978 the Iranian woman, Atoussa H., wrote to Michel Foucault, a fan of Khomeini: “It seems that for the leftist movement in the West, which lacks humanism, Islam is desirable… for other peoples.” Because Iranian women knew very well from the beginning what they could expect from the so-called ”protection” by the Islamists: the abolition of all so far gained civil rights, the adoption of Sharia Law, disenfranchisement, torture and stoning.

When the Iranian women took to the streets and protested against Khomeini, they could not have imagined that thirty years later, elements of Sharia Law would be introduced into legislation concerning family and women’s rights even in western countries. Hence they fought their audacious battle not only against the Islamists in Iran, but for women’s rights around the world.

All Iranian oppositionists, whether they call themselves communist, liberal or even Islamic, refer to these demonstrations time and again, and some even pretend to have participated in them in the front lines. In reality, these demonstrations were spontaneous protests which took place over the course of several days and in all major cities in Iran, and women of all ranks were present.

A Film like ”The Liberation Movement of Iranian Women – Year Zero“ could hardly have been produced in the Europe of today. With all their might, parts of the European media instead insist on drawing the picture that for people from the orient, there can be no other form of society than the Islamic one.

So much the greater is the historical significance represented by this tiny film documentary, as it debunks in thirteen minutes tons of Islamist and cultural relativist propaganda as cruel lies.

By Fathiyeh Naghibzadeh who took part in the women’s demonstrations in March 1979, fled Iran more than twenty years ago and is co-author of the book: „Iran – Analysis of an Islamic Dictatorship and its European Supporters“(German). She is member of the Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin and the Stop the Bomb Coalition, on whose homepage the film is available with English subtitles.

Includes link to online video of the demonstration.

On Sunday 8 March, 2009, the world celebrated the International Women’s Day.

It is a day that offers the world the opportunity to reflect on the status of women, with the objectives of highlighting their contributions, achievements as well as their limitations in terms of promotion of gender equality and empowerment at all levels.

In marking this very important day, very important messages have been delivered by prominent people. The Daily Observer herein reproduces the messages from The Gambia’s vice president, Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy; the US secretary of state, Hilary Clinton; the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon; and the Female Lawyers’ Association of The Gambia (FLAG).

Goodwill message on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, March 7th 2009, by H.E. the vice president and Secretary of State for Women’s Affairs, Dr. Ajaratou Isatou Njie-Saidy.

Theme: “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls”

Fellow Gambians, Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. You will recall that this day is celebrated, every year on the 8th of March with the objective of highlighting the achievements and challenges in the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women at the national and global level. In The Gambia, plans are on the way to celebrate this day, International Women’s Day in April 2009, by the Women’s Bureau, National Women’s Council and the Department of State for Women’s Affairs.

This day is when women are recognised for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.

The global event has grown from strength to strength and has become an event which brings women and all other stakeholders together to promote and advocate for more cohesive and coordinated interventions towards effectively addressing the critical needs of women in the social, political and economic processes. Each year a relevant theme is identified that is deemed most appreciate. This year’s theme is: “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls”.

Violence against women and girls is any act of gender-based violence that result in, or likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women and girls including threats such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

In The Gambia, we cannot overemphasise the relevance and timeliness of this year’s theme on ending violence against women and girls which focus is given by the UN and the AU and their development partners. This theme was the subject of an ADFVI forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from the 19th to 21st November 2008, jointly organized by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Union and the African Development Bank.

In the Gambia, violence against women and girls is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, as manifested by current gender relations that are marked by socio-cultural norms of male domination over the discrimination against women. This continued domination and discrimination has prevented the full advancement of women and in one of the crucial social mechanism by which women are forced into sub-ordinate position compared to men.

Violence against women and girls is complex and diverse in its manifestations, with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences and costs and impoverishes women, their families, communities and the state. It is also a violation of the essential basic human rights of an individual to safety, security and physical integrity.

In The Gambia there is no available date on violence against women and girls, but the majority of Gambian women have been either beaten, coerced into sex otherwise abused in a life time. Here in The Gambia violence is pervasive, and as a result many women continue to suffer in the home and in the community with devastating effects.

The kind of violence prevalent in this country, although not exclusive to it includes: domestic violence, sexual violence including rape, early marriages, harmful traditional practices and widow inheritance. Amidst all these violations, women are more at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS than men, while feminisation of poverty is perpetuated and gender equality remains unattainable, yet the culture of silence prevails especially amongst women victims.

Many of the victims of rape and other sexual violence are deeply traumatized. Families and communities often reject women and girls who have been raped and sexually assaulted, and usually strip them of their social standing. In many cases, women who survive rape attacks are subsequently disowned by their husbands, leaving them even more vulnerable to future attacks because they lack the economic, social and physical protection.

Women and girls subjected to violence are more likely to suffer physical, mental and reproductive health problems. Incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV/AIDs is high among victims of violence. Women and girls also suffer from serious behavioural and psychological problems, sexual dysfunction and relationship problems, low self-esteem, depression, suicidal thoughts, deliberate self-harm, and alcohol and substance abuse. Their chances of acquiring skills for socio-economic mobility and independence are therefore severely compromised.

All too often the physical and mental health services necessary for victims of violence – women and girls to help them resume normal lives are not available, especially in rural areas. Perpetrators of rape and sexual violence often go unpunished. Few women are able to seek justice against the perpetrators.

It is common knowledge to all Gambians that testifying against alleged perpetrators is often difficult for victims due to the social stigma attached to women is often difficult for victims due to the social stigma alleged perpetrators is often difficult for victims due to the social stigma attachment to women and girls who speak out against their abuses. In this country many women choose not to testify because they do not want to bring further ‘shame’ to themselves and their family. Witnesses may also fear repercussions from the perpetrators.

If the culture of silence amongst victims of violence ends, government will hold perpetrators accountable to their actions, for the government of The Gambia; under the able leadership of HE the President Professor Dr Alhagie Yahya AJJ Jammeh has never relaxed its vigilance in protecting the dignity and welfare of women and girls. When perpetrators of violence are not held accountable, it not only encourages further abuses, but also gives the message that violence is acceptable and normal. This government will not condone this practice and will do all it can to prevent it. We will be fire preventers and not fire fighters.

Cognisant of the prevalence of violence against women and girls, and its horrendous effects on their fundamental rights and freedoms, and physical and mental health, the government of The Gambia has adopted several legal instruments to address the criminal acts.

To harness comprehensive and systematic actions to prevent and protect women and girls against violence, the following questions should be addressed:-

    1. What effective strategies should be adopted to promote and implement the rule of law against perpetrators of violence and all other forms of gender based violence?

    2. How government should put an end to impunity and ensure accountability with regard to violence?

    3. How the national financial policy should be expanded to include provisions for comprehensive support to victims of violence?

    4. What are some examples of best practices whereby gender sensitive approaches have been used to include women and girls in the design; approaches have been used to include women and girls in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of violence?

    5. What mechanism can be adopted to advocate and mobilise popular support to revive and promote community-based outrage and public outcry against such acts of violence? The government has a major responsibility to protect its citizens against all forms of violence. Effective actions to present violence, especially against women and children, required a comprehensive national approach, which should include preventive measures, punitive consequences for perpetrators and protection of the victims and their human rights.

Protest march, awareness camp and meetings were organized by different organizations to mark the International Women’s Day on Sunday in the state capital.

Activists of Women Power Connect and Gramin evam Nagar Vikas Parishad led by Anju Sinha and Ramkishore Prasad Singh submitted a memorandum to governor R L Bhatia demanding reservation of 33 per cent tickets for woman in the coming Lok Sabha elections. The memorandum also carried the signatures of 7,819 women.

Bihar Obstetric and Gynaecological Society, Patna, organized a function at the IMA building. Dr Sharda Sahay was felicitated with Lifetime Achievement Award on the occasion. Earlier, president Dr Pramila Gupta welcomed the delegates while secretary Rita Dayal presented secretary report and her views regarding empowerment of women. Dr Sushma Pandey highlighted the importance of empowerment of woman.

Dhinkar Academy organized a women’s Kavi Gosthi on the premises of Kala Kaksh on Sunday. Prominent among those who participated included Kashinath Pandey, Madhurima Mishra, Punam Singh and Chandraprakash Maya.

Sukh Sansar, a voluntary organisation, organized an awareness camp on `Women: Their Rights and Respect’ at Kadamkuan. Speaking on the occasion, senior advocate Indu Shekhar Prasad Sinha gave detailed information about Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005.

Bihar Domestic Workers’ Welfare Trust took out a procession in the state capital to mark the occasion. Later, the procession reached St Joseph’s Convent where a meeting was organized.

Activists of All India Mahila Sanskritik Sangathan took out a protest march in the state capital over burning issues. The procession later reached Patna Junction roundabout where a meeting was organized. Those who addressed the gathering included Anamika, Sadhna Mishra and Indu Kumari.

Members of All India Progressive Women’s Association took out a march from the party office to Patna Junction roundabout where it converted into a meeting. It was addressed by several leaders, including national general secretary of the organisation Meena Tiwary.

Oum Abdallah Elwan, 44, spent her International Women’s day with her seven children in a cemetery mourning her husband, who was killed in a 22-day Israeli military offensive carried out on Gaza ended on Jan. 18.

Elwan is just one among many Palestinian women in the enclave strip, whom lost their husbands or sons in the Israeli military operation, and became the sole supporter of their family.

Wearing traditional Islamic dress (burquo), Elwan was fully covered with only eyes exposed. She sat next to her husband’s grave, desperately and helplessly.

“He was killed and left me with five sons and two daughters, who will take care of us?” She told Xinhua reporters.

Israel carried out a 22-day massive military offensive on Gaza Strip since December 27th of 2008, leaving some 1,400 Palestinian skilled and more than 5,000 injured.

“My husband was peaceful, he was killed with seven others by an Israeli missile when he went out to help the medics to rescue the injured people. He was a civilian without weapons. Why did the Israelis kill him?” Cried Elwan.

Elwan now is facing a difficult psychological and financial situation after her husband died. “I try to start my new life, but I can’t help missing him and so do my children.” Elwan said.

Now Elwan lives in a very humble house in Ber El Naaja area, northern Gaza Strip, relying on aids from some local organizations. She cooks food for her children with kerosene everyday due to the lack of gas in Gaza since Israel imposed tight blockade.

Some Palestinian human rights activists mentioned that the Palestinian women, especially those who lost their husbands or sons, still suffer very “hard shocks.”

Samar Shahien, Palestinian activist for the woman rights, said that the Palestinian society suffers from shock after the Israeli military operation in general, but women suffer more.

Women, in a direct, or indirect way, are facing huge responsibility because of this unstable situation, and no woman is able to accept quietly the death of her husband or son, Shahien said.

Shahien said especially when a woman has to take the man’s role to support the whole family; she has to undertake more than she can.

In a very traditional Islamic community like Gaza, if the man became a martyr, the wife will be deprived of remarriage, she has to raise all the children by her own, and this may cause her fear for the future, said Shahien.

Talking about her children’s future, Elwan said she is encouraging her sons to devote into “resistance” when they grow up, and she said this happened only when her husband was killed.

But at the same time, Elwan added that, she is also encouraging them to study and leave them the choice to define their goals in the society, which she believes is ruled by armed factions.

Asked about her comment on the first post-war Women’s Day, Elwan replied that the day is supposed to be an important occasion for the women all over the world, but “women in Gaza only experience a joyless Women’s Day.”

The 8th of March, Women’s Day, in Poland is a event that used to be just another opportunity for men to buy their girlfriends, wives and mothers flowers and chocolates. For some time, however, it’s been known as the biggest festival of women’s rights. That is the day women come out on the streets of Polish cities.

For 10 years now, the International Women’s Day has been an opportunity for women to voice their opinions and persuade people that women share common interests and promote the idea that they should be more active and independent: do business, get into politics, demand equality within the family and in the workplace. For 10 years, the Polish organization called Porozumienie Kobiet 8 Marca (March 8 Women’s Alliance), supported by many women’s groups, has been organizing the biggest demonstration of women’s rights supporters, widely known as Manifa (march of protesters). It has become a grassroots democratic movement. The Manifas are being organized in many Polish cities, by local committees, comprised of NGOs, university gender studies programs, scientific associations, and informal groups or individuals.

When organized for the first time, Manifa gathered only 200 participants, but last year there were almost 4,000 people. That also demonstrates the great need for having initiatives like that and for creating a spectacular event highlighting the role of women and the concerns and problems women face in our country. But in the beginning, media perceived these demonstrations as gatherings of “strange women feminists, showing their dislike of men.” Today though, they already know that instead of, or rather, in addition to, flowers, women deserve to change of discrimination and stereotyped beliefs they suffer from. As one of the protesters in 2008 said, “Women are everywhere, they are 50% of the society. Yet their voice is not being heard. Women issues and problems women have are ignored and marginalised. We are fed up with this. Therefore it’s high time we did something about it.”

Each year Polish women taking part in Manifas are voicing different priorities within the area of women’s rights, which for them seem to be the most important and need to be addressed immediately. Among the demands, they make are: easy access to contraception; abolishing the gender role stereotypes that people are socialized into; right to decide about oneself and one’s body; no more treating women as sexual objects; proper sex education in schools; and treating equally women who are elderly, poor, homosexual, of different ethnicity, of low social standing or handicapped.

This year’s Manifa, to be held on Sunday, March 8, 2009, is advertised by many women’s organizations using the following words: “Come and Join Us Because … Poland is Ill.” It is therefore aiming to highlight the problems connected with health, including a new law addressing in-vitro fertilization, which is currently being drafted by a bioethics committee. The project is expected to regulate in vitro procedures including protecting the rights of an embryo, forbidding the sale of sperm and eggs, as well as banning the selection of eggs for fertilization. But, women’s groups claim, the draft law is very much influenced by the Catholic ideology – the law will prevent single persons and also homosexual couples for accessing IVF. Also, the law will change the existing provisions which oblige a doctor to inform its patient who wants to undergo abortion about another doctor or clinic where such a procedure may be performed if he or she refuses to perform one. After adoption of a new law, a woman will not have a right to be provided with such information. The law may also criminalize the use of certain types of contraceptives, like coil, or morning-after pills, like Postinor.

The demonstrators will also underline controversial ideas of the Ministry of Health regarding registering pregnancies in Poland (see: Pregnant in Poland? Government Considers Tracking You for Illegal Abortion, and not allowing for voluntary anesthetization during delivery (see: Poland Says No to Pain-Free Childbirth, all of which raised serious concerns among women as to whether they are willing to become mothers, if basic health guarantees are not ensured or seem to be at stake.

It is clear that health is a fundamental prerequisite for a good life, for the ability to support oneself, and for the enjoyment of other human rights. Of course, the health of women matters, most of all, to women themselves. But it also matters to their families, communities and societies. Therefore, it should not be considered in isolation. In order to improve the health of women, other determinants of women’s health status need to be analyzed. That includes, among others, inequality in employment between women and men, where equal pay is still practically inexistent – women are still paid 25% less than men while holding the same positions. And unemployment, where 60% of all unemployed are women. Both of which influence their ability to support themselves and their families, also in relation to healthcare.

Manifas are designed to be cheerful events with lots of open-minded people, colorful clothes, but with a serious message. By organizing manifas in many various cities in Poland as part of the International Women’s Day celebrations, this serious message could be heard more easily by a wider audience.

Anna Wilkowska-Landowska’s blog

This Sunday, the Eighth of March, Assemble at Plaza O’Leary at 9 AM in Silence, to March toward Plaza Los Museos, the Location of the Cultural Festival

We Are Marching to Open New Paths. Big Marches Work Their Magic Because We Make the Path by Marching, Which Is the Legacy of the Collective Memory of Our Peoples.

Contraception and Sexual and Reproductive Education So Women Won’t Have to Have Abortion, and Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion So Women Won’t Have to Die!

When Women Advance, No Man Backslides, and the Organization Grows.

Women and Men Are Fighting Equally to Build Popular Power.

May Our Powerful Steps Be Heard, the Heartbeat of the Pachamama Giving Birth to a New Life.

“I did not earn the rank of Colonel in the bed with Bolívar — I earned it in the battlefield of Ayacucho.” — Manuelita Sáenz

Compañeras, campesinas, women workers, indigenous women, mothers, women students, women artists, girls, and popular organizations:

Venezuela, decorated in national colors, is making progress in the building of a socialist Matria, a just, free, and sovereign motherland, a dream partially realized through our revolutionary process. Our land calls upon us, thousands of women and men, to dare to build socialism with gender equity, to soar, to bring together our color, labor, and hope.

The eighth of March is a day to commemorate the struggle and remember all those women who, with their own steps, charted the path that we are traveling today: Clara Zetkin and other German socialist women who proposed to unite feminism and socialism; the Russian women who spearheaded the Soviet revolution; 146 North American women who fought for better working conditions and were killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York in 1911. But the eighth of March is also a day to celebrate the lives of women, a fiesta in which we joyfully proclaim: another world without gender oppression is possible.

In the past and present of our continent, marches and mobilizations have sought to sow the seeds of hope, with women in the front (not only as cooks, wives, or nurses) ready to fight and engage in politics in the struggle for land and liberation: la Minga (cayapa in the indigenous tradition of Venezuela, the process of members of a community working in cooperation) in Colombia, the Zapatista struggle in Mexico, the defense of natural resources in Bolivia, the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil, and the call for socialist revolution in Venezuela, among many others in Our America.

This history didn’t happen by chance — it’s connected with a tradition of courageous women fighting against the patriarchal-capitalist system. With their blood they wove a network, and with our blood we are doing so today — we are the weavers, picking up this authentic thread, which was nearly buried by the imposing records of official history.

Today we are taking a firm step to reclaim our rights, which remain incomplete. Let us finish the unfinished revolution, bequeathed to us by the commitment of our fighting grandmothers, our fighting mothers, fighting women who taught us a lesson in solidarity, women of wisdom who protected life, making it possible to dream a different world.

Let us unite in this great “movement” of women that is rising in every corner of our beautiful earth, in Africa, in America, in Asia, in Europe, and in Oceania.

Today, we, women of Venezuela, women of Latin America, are marching:

In the realm of politics
* To celebrate our achievements as women and our active participation in the revolutionary process.
* To deepen and consolidate popular power in Communal Councils, communes, and socialist communal cities.
* For our more active and visible participation in decision-making within the spaces for the building of popular power: Communal Councils, communes, municipalities, the PSUV, and social movements.
* For the revolutionary ethics, because the personal is political
* For the right to undiminished love without discrimination and with respect for sexual diversity.
* For our President Chávez who consistently stands up for the causes of women’s struggles, proving himself to be a man who is in touch with his feminine side.

In the realm of education
* For the transformation of the education system, to create new men and women.
* For the expansion and improvement of the Simoncito (preschool) program.

In the realm of law:
* For the compliance with Articles 88, 76, 21, and 14 of our constitution and Article 14 of the Land Act which stipulates subsidies for pre- and post-partum campesinas. Let’s put our legal rights into practice.
* More time for breastfeeding as the first act of food sovereignty.
* For the implementation of daycare centers as nurseries to educate, not just to stay in compliance of the Organic Labor Act.
* For the compliance with the Act for Women’s Right to Life without Violence.
* For the legalization of the termination of unwanted pregnancy.

In the realm of land struggles:
* For the real intensification of the “war on latifundia.” For land for women who work the land, and for the good environment and housing for all women and men.
* For an urgent government action for the transformation of the production model. Let’s leave destructive, productivist agriculture behind and make progress toward agricultural ecology and sustainable family farming.
* For the defense of the culture of our people, which is our people’s heritage and a source of resistance to imposed “cultures.”

We condemn:
* The reduction of women to sexual objects and commodities by the media of mass deformation (e.g., through reguetón lyrics).
* The situation of over 200 widowed campesinas and their orphaned children, whose fallen compañeros were killed in the struggle against latifundia, at the murderous hands of hired assassins and paramilitaries allied with landowners.
* The expulsion of Yukpa, Barí, and Wayuú women, men, and children form their territory in the Perijá mountain range (among other indigenous communities in this country) by landowners and by a developmentalist conception of the occupation of space.
* The failure to comply with the Commission on Land Demarcation, favoring the interests of multinational mining corporations and ignoring the indigenous peoples’ self-demarcation of territories.
* Indiscriminate evictions in our cities, which violently take the right to homes and shelters away from women — even pregnant women — and their families.
* The institutions of higher education and their alliance with transnational corporations which produce professionals complicit in the deaths and diseases due the development of monocultures with pesticides that poison the mother earth and her children — us.
* The dismissal of women from their jobs by Antonio Ledezma, the opposition mayor of Metropolitan Calacas.
* Domestic violence, the suffering hidden by the demagogy of the conservative bourgeois society.
* The Catholic Church for its support of the rapist Nixon Moreno.
* The presence of patriarchy in our daily lives, which manifests itself among our compañeros and even women who copy the machista model.
* The men who are unable to express affection, solidarity, consideration, cooperation, and respect among others.
* Corruption and the bureaucratic red tape that prevent the transformation of the bourgeois state into a socialist state.
* The violence of the empire in all corners of the world, in Palestine and in our continent, and its plots implemented by its lackeys, manipulating students, even those from our barrios and villages.

Convenors: FNCEZ, La Via Campesina, CTU, M.P.R Fogata, Pachamama Collective, the Committee for the Popular University, SURCO-DP Collective, National Coordination of Undergraduate Education in the Department of Political Science and Government at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide), Voces Latentes (Latent Voices), Argimiro Gabaldón Socialist Commune, “Sin Techo” (Homeless) Movement, the Committee in Support of the Eighth of March, and many others.

Women rallied worldwide to demand equal rights and protest against domestic violence and growing poverty in the global economic crisis as they marked International Women’s Day.

Thousands gathered in public squares from Bangalore to Kinshasa to the capitals of Europe Sunday, drawing attention to discrimination and fears facing women in their respective countries.

For Europeans, deteriorating financial security in the face of recession has made life more precarious for women workers. “Masculine globalisation equals female poverty” read a banner at a march in Madrid, while in Warsaw calls for equality were linked to paychecks: “Equal rights, equal pay.”

“When, in times of crisis, jobs become scarce, women are often the ones who are the first to go,” said Helga Schwitzer, a leader of Germany’s powerful IG Metall union.

“Women must not be the losers in the crisis,” she told a gathering in Emden, northwest Germany, as she noted that women still earn on average 23 percent less than men.

US President Barack Obama said women are “vital” to solving world challenges and called for “the full and active participation of women around the world.”

His former White House rival, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, celebrated women’s untapped potential but lamented that “no nation in the world has yet achieved full equality for women.”

The French government sought to raise awareness by releasing a book for 18-year-olds titled “Respect Girls”, warning teenagers not to buy into stereotypes in advertising and providing information on sexual harassment and equal opportunities.

“These few pages will help you know your basic rights so that you can translate this into positive and ambitious life choices,” Valerie Letard, state secretary for women’s issues, at a meeting with about 100 young women in Paris.

The Vatican took a different spin on Women’s Day, proclaiming what has liberated Western women the most is none other than the washing machine.

“The debate is still open. Some say it was the pill, others the liberalisation of abortion, or being able to work outside the home. Others go even further: the washing machine,” the official Vatican newspaper said.

For women mainly outside the West, however, their very existence is in peril from violence and cultural attitudes that endanger their lives.

Indian activists in Bangalore, in India’s south, met in parks and open areas to protest a spate of violent attacks on women by religious extremists in the name of “moral policing”.

In Africa, women called attention to the plight of their sex in war zones. Some 10,000 women marched in the streets of Kinshasa to protest massive and savage violence against women and children using them as a weapon of war.

“The desires of Congolese women are clear: stop rape, stop HIV/AIDS, and stop other human rights violations against women and children,” said Marie-Ange Lukiana Mufwankolo, family minister in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Darfur rebel leader Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nur called for support for women and girls in the strife-torn region who are “victims of Islamic fundamentalism and ethnic cleansing.”

“I call upon all women in the world to celebrate Women’s Day by helping Darfur people and Darfur women and girls,” Nur told AFP in Paris, where he has been living in exile for a year and a half.

In Iraq, despite post-war reconstruction, many women — especially widows — are too poor to provide for their families, according to a report by aid agency Oxfam, published to mark International Women’s Day.

“I was convinced that I could improve conditions for women, but I ran into a wall,” said Nawal al-Samarrai, Iraq’s former minister for women’s rights who resigned in despair over lack of support last month.

Another female politician who has risen to the top in a male-dominated society, Shukria Barakzai, an Afghan member of parliament, also lamented her gender’s plight.

She is campaigning against forced and child marriages — practices still common in Afghanistan — after her husband took a second spouse.

“It is very painful for me that my husband has another wife. I myself am a victim of male violence against women in this country. My husband married his second wife without even telling me,” she said.

Muslim women around the world are facing a “growing crisis” as Islamic governments fail to honour commitments to end inequality and violence against them, an independent UN expert warned.

Yakin Erturk, the United Nations’ rapporteur on violence against women, told a weekend conference in Malaysia that women must demand their governments carry out pledges to grant them equal rights and ensure their safety.

And the Colombian office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights pressed for violent sex crimes against women to be investigated and punished, saying that often “the guilty parties are members of several armed groups.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said this week one woman in five around the globe has been a victim of rape or attempted rape, and that in some countries one woman in three has been beaten or subjected to some kind of violent act.

In Cuba, President Raul Castro called it a “disgrace” that Cuban women’s representation in political life was not as significant at the “decision-making” level as it should be.

In Caracas, meanwhile, Cuba’s key ally President Hugo Chavez announced he would be upgrading the Women’s Affairs Ministry to a stronger role in his self-styled socialist revolution. The new entity will be called the Ministry of People’s Power for Women and Gender Equality, Chavez said.

Women took to the streets around the world on International Women’s Day to demand equality and protest against domestic violence and growing poverty.

Thousands gathered in public squares from Bangalore to Kinshasa to the capitals of Europe on Sunday.

Adressing a rally in Emden, north-west Germany, top IG Metall union official Helga Schwitzer pointed out that, “in times of crisis, jobs become scarce and women are often the ones who are the first to go.

“Women must not be the losers in the crisis,” she told the gathering, stressing that women still earn on average 23 per cent less than men.

In Bangalore, women activists met in parks and open areas to protest at a spate of violent attacks on women by religious extremists in the name of “moral policing.”

And in Africa, women called attention to the plight of their gender in war zones.

Some 10,000 women marched on the streets of Kinshasa to protest against the massive and savage violence meted out to women and children as a weapon of war.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, family minister Marie-Ange Lukiana Mufwankolo said: “The desires of Congolese women are clear – stop rape, stop Aids and stop other human rights violations against women and children.”

An independent UN expert warned at the weekend that Muslim women around the world are facing a “growing crisis” as Islamist-oriented governments fail to honour commitments to end inequality and violence against them.

United Nations rapporteur on violence against women Yakin Erturk told a conference in Malaysia that women must press their governments to deliver pledges on equal rights and to ensure their safety.

Women in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province established a business association on Sunday to boost economic development.

Women Affairs Department official Nadira Joya explained that it aimed to “enhance women’s role in economic activities in order to boost their income.”

In Bogota, the Colombian office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for violent sex crimes against women to be investigated and punished, saying that often “the guilty parties are members of several armed groups.”

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said this week that one woman in five around the globe has been a victim of rape or attempted rape and that, in some countries, one woman in three has been beaten or subjected to some kind of violent act.

In Cuba, President Raul Castro called it a “disgrace” that Cuban women’s representation in political life was not as significant at the “decision-making” level as it should be.

And, in Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that he will upgrade the Women’s Affairs Ministry to play a stronger role in the country’s socialist revolution.

Mr Chavez announced that the new entity will be called the Ministry of People’s Power for Women and Gender Equality.

International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate women’s commitment to work for equality and justice for all people.

The landscape for women’s rights has changed dramatically over the past century. In 2009, the issue is less about women’s legal status — although many countries do still have discriminatory laws on their books — and more about ensuring women genuinely experience equality in all aspects of their lives.

At the international and regional level, there are legally binding agreements to protect and promote women’s rights. In many countries women are active participants in the political process and have made progress towards some economic equality. However, women’s right to life, to physical integrity, to health, to education, to freedom from violence, remains largely unfulfilled. Nowhere is this more evident than for women living in poverty. The reason? The lack of political will, and the rhetorical commitments of political leaders are followed by a gaping vacuum in terms of action and resources.

There are no legitimate excuses to explain why governments have failed to fully implement — and make effective — the national and international laws passed over the last few decades to end discrimination and violence against women once and for all.

The failure of governments to act, coupled with persistent and pervasive discrimination in societies, systematically undermine the rights of women who are marginalised and excluded. Women living in poverty are deprived of their rights to health and education and live in fear of violence in their lives and of their children, demonstrating that freedom from fear and freedom from want or inextricably linked. Women living in poverty are excluded from the opportunity to actively participate in decisions that affect their lives. Women experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, caste, religion, gender or sexuality but also simply on account of their living in poverty.

In South Africa, high levels of sexual violence and the prevalence of HIV make women particularly vulnerable to HIV infection. Women who live in poverty are often unable to afford the costs of transportation to access medical facilities where they could receive comprehensive care and treatment. Women living in Kibera, Kenya, one of the world’s largest slums, struggle daily to access basic necessities such as water and food and some degree of physical security. In Haiti, many girls cannot afford to pay school fees. This either means they are denied access to education or they end up in sexually exploitive relationships with men in order to pay the fees. Over half a million women die preventable deaths every year from complications related to pregnancy. The vast majority of these deaths are of women living in poverty. Poverty will not be eradicated unless all these gross human rights violations are addressed.

The Millennium Development Goals, the major global response to poverty agreed by all governments at the beginning of this century, do include commitments to women’s empowerment and health. But the existing targets and indicators used to measure progress to this end are inadequate – masking discrimination, and leaving largely unaddressed the violence and marginalisation of women. Violence against women inhibits poor women’s efforts to overcome poverty through employment. Violence against girls, means fewer girls attend school, and violence against women is both a significant factor pushing women to leave rural areas and their continuing exposure to it in slums.

Today, International Women’s Day, women around the world will celebrate, stand up and speak out to demand their rights. Will governments listen to these demands and act to uphold the rights of women? Of all women?

Amnesty International urges governments to listen and to act. Failure to respect the rights of women deprives us all. None of us can afford to live in a world in which the gifts, talents and experiences of half the population are excluded.

March 8, 2009

On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2009, I am proud to honor women around the world who are blazing trails and surmounting obstacles in pursuit of equality and opportunity. Although you may not know their names or recognize their faces, these women advocates are hard at work in every country and on every continent, seeking to fulfill their right to participate fully in the political, economic and cultural lives of their societies. Often working against great odds and at great personal sacrifice, they are a key to global progress in this new century and deserve our admiration and support.

Put simply, we have much less hope of addressing the complex challenges we face in this new century without the full participation of women. Whether the economic crisis, the spread of terrorism, regional conflicts that threaten families and communities, and climate change and the dangers it presents to the world’s health and security, we will not solve these challenges through half measures. Yet too often, on these issues and many more, half the world is left behind.

This is not simply a matter of emotion or altruism. A growing body of research tells us that supporting women is a high-yield investment, resulting in stronger economies, more vibrant civil societies, healthier communities, and greater peace and stability. But even so, no nation in the world has yet achieved full equality for women.

Women still comprise the majority of the world’s poor, unfed, and unschooled. Hundreds of thousands of women die in childbirth every year. They are subjected to rape as a tactic of war and exploited by traffickers globally in a billion dollar criminal business. Laws are still on the books denying women the right to own property, access credit, or make their own choices within their marriage. And honor killings, maiming, female genital mutilation, and other violent and degrading practices that target women are tolerated in too many places today.

Like all people, women deserve to live free from violence and fear. To create peaceful, thriving communities, women must be equal partners. That means making key resources available to women as well as men, including the chance to work for fair wages and have access to credit; to vote, petition their governments and run for office; to know they can get healthcare when they need it, including family planning; and to send their children to school—their sons and their daughters.

Women also have a crucial role to play in establishing peace worldwide. In regions torn apart by war, it is often the women who find ways to reach across differences and discover common ground as mothers, caretakers, and grassroots advocates. One need only look to Northern Ireland, Rwanda, the Balkans, and parts of Central America to see the impact of women working in their communities to bridge divides in areas of sectarian conflict.

This week, as we celebrate the accomplishments and the untapped potential of women around the world, we must remind ourselves that ensuring the rights of women and girls is not only a matter of justice. It is a matter of enhancing global peace, progress, and prosperity for generations to come.

When women are afforded their basic rights, they flourish. And so do their children, families, communities, and nations.

Press Release: US State Department

The White House released a statement by President Obama proclaiming March Women’s History Month. March was selected as a time to honor American women in 1978, when a Women’s History Week was initiated; the time-period was expanded to a month in 1987. Obama’s proclamation follows:

With passion and courage, women have taught us that when we band together to advocate for our highest ideals, we can advance our common well-being and strengthen the fabric of our Nation. Each year during Women’s History Month, we remember and celebrate women from all walks of life who have shaped this great Nation. This year, in accordance with the theme, “Women Taking the Lead to Save our Planet,” we pay particular tribute to the efforts of women in preserving and protecting the environment for present and future generations.

Ellen Swallow Richards is known to have been the first woman in the United States to be accepted at a scientific school. She graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1873 and went on to become a prominent chemist. In 1887, she conducted a survey of water quality in Massachusetts. This study, the first of its kind in America, led to the Nation’s first state water-quality standards.

Women have also taken the lead throughout our history in preserving our natural environment. In 1900, Maria Sanford led the Minnesota Federation of Women’s Groups in their efforts to protect forestland near the Mississippi River, which eventually became the Chippewa National Forest, the first Congressionally mandated national forest. Marjory Stoneman Douglas dedicated her life to protecting and restoring the Florida Everglades. Her book, The Everglades: Rivers of Grass, published in 1947, led to the preservation of the Everglades as a National Park. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993.

Rachel Carson brought even greater attention to the environment by exposing the dangers of certain pesticides to the environment and to human health. Her landmark 1962 book, Silent Spring, was fiercely criticized for its unconventional perspective. As early as 1963, however, President Kennedy acknowledged its importance and appointed a panel to investigate the book’s findings. Silent Spring has emerged as a seminal work in environmental studies. Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 1980.

Grace Thorpe, another leading environmental advocate, also connected environmental protection with human well-being by emphasizing the vulnerability of certain populations to environmental hazards. In 1992, she launched a successful campaign to organize Native Americans to oppose the storage of nuclear waste on their reservations, which she said contradicted Native American principles of stewardship of the earth. She also proposed that America invest in alternative energy sources such as hydroelectricity, solar power, and wind power.

These women helped protect our environment and our people while challenging the status quo and breaking social barriers. Their achievements inspired generations of American women and men not only to save our planet, but also to overcome obstacles and pursue their interests and talents. They join a long and proud history of American women leaders, and this month we honor the contributions of all women to our Nation.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2009 as Women’s History Month. I call upon all our citizens to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that honor the history, accomplishments, and contributions of American women.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this third day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.


Most women want the next European Parliament to guarantee equal pay for equal work, promote day care facilities for children, include child-minding years as pensionable years and combat violence against women, according to a Eurobarometer Flash survey presented in the European Parliament on March 4 2009.

The poll shows significant variations among countries, but a common view is that European politics is a male-dominated world.

Additional research published on March 4 showed that women also give priority to consumer protection and public health measures, a European Parliament media statement said.

Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou, Vice-President of the European Parliament said: “On the eve of the International Women’s Day and the forthcoming European elections, this special Eurobarometer and the socio-demographic analysis give an added value to our efforts to come closer to the European citizen.

“They offer to us, at the European and national levels, important elements about the female voters such as their expectations, their image of the EU, their priority policies to be defended or discussed during the campaign, their participation to politics in European level,” she said.

“This is of a great significance as 83 per cent of women and 76 per cent of men agree that women can bring a different perspective to politics”.

European Commission Vice-President Margot Wallstrom said: “Eurobarometer results show that a large majority of Europeans agree that men dominate politics and that women can bring a different perspective.

“A democracy which does not make enough room for 52 per cent of the population at the
decision-making table is no real democracy at all. A concrete opportunity for change will present itself soon, when European Parliament elections take place at the beginning of June,” she said.

“Decisions are made by those who turn up. Let’s work together so that as many Europeans as possible and at least as many women as men will take this opportunity to get out on polling day and use their vote for candidates who believe in issues which are important to them,” Wallstrom said.

A total of 35 000 women and 5500 men in 27 countries were interviewed by telephone on their perceptions of European politics and more specifically on equal opportunities.

The objective of the poll, commissioned jointly by the European Parliament and the European Commission, was to get a clearer idea of women’s expectations of the European Union in the run up to the elections of June 4 to 7 2009, and in the context of International Women day on March 8.

The majority of women surveyed, and also of men but in a lower proportion, agree that politics is a male dominated world, the percentage being especially high in the Czech Republic, Poland and Portugal.

Most respondents would like to see more women in politics, up to half of the interviewees wishing to see at least 50 per cent of MEPs being women, but only a minority, 10 per cent, considering the use of mandatory quotas to be effective.

When choosing a candidate, the most important factor for women is experience in European issues, 10 points above political orientations.

In deciding their vote, 37 per cent say they decide on the basis of campaign issues, while 29 per cent say that they always vote for the same party.

For 25 per cent of respondents, the personality of the candidates was the key factor. Men tend to give the same weight to experience and political orientation, according to the survey.

When answering the Eurobarometer Flash poll, 46 per cent said their interests as women were not well represented in the EU, with 39 per cent feeling they were well represented.

Women in Luxembourg, Netherlands and Denmark were the most satisfied with how Europe takes into account their interests, with Latvia, Bulgaria and Hungary at the opposite end.

To assure equal opportunities in general, most want more efforts to end the pay gap and to combat violence against women. Equal access to employment is cited in third place.

To promote family – work balance, the next European Parliament should be acting in different areas, such as including child-rearing years in the pensionable period and facilitating access to childcare facilities, according to the majority of responses.

Differences in this area persist on a national basis, with women in Slovenia, the Netherlands and Romania considering that their personal lives were least hindered by work obligations, and at the other end of the spectrum women in Greece, France and Slovakia finding it the hardest.

Those with highest education levels were the ones most likely to say they find difficulties in reaching an adequate balance.

The majority of women report that they do not feel discriminated by gender, with 32 per cent reporting the contrary, with the biggest percentages in Sweden, Greece, Finland and Hungary.

Thirteen per cent still feel discriminated against at home, this percentage being higher in the UK (21 per cent), Greece (21 per cent) and Ireland (17 per cent).

The European Parliament also published on March 4 a research study on previous polls, with the aim to explore difference in attitudes between women and men on general European issues and showed that women would like Europe to be more active in consumer protection and public health.

Based on the answers to previous polls over a period of 18 months, the socio-demographic research, commissioned by the European Parliament, confirms that women are more negative than men regarding the economic situation, the risks of globalisation and the impact of the euro.

When asked how often do they discuss politics with friends, the gap between genders is obvious: 34 per cent women never do, compared to 23 per cent of men.

The analysis shows that women give priority to consumer protection, public health, whereas men give higher priority to the fight against terrorism and climate change.

Women feel themselves less listened to in politics than men and are, on average, less interested in European issues.

But in the most recent European elections in 2004, their participation rate was overall the same as for men.

The European Commission (EC) has launched a campaign aimed at tackling the gender pay gap across the European Union (EU).

Figures show that, on average, women receive more than 17 per cent less in their pay packets than men.

The campaign has been launched to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8th.

Vladimir Spidla, the European Union Employment Commissioner, commented: ‘We cannot continue wasting the potential of women in the economy and squander what we have achieved in equality.’

According to the EC, the pay gap leads to many women living in poverty in later life as a result of having lower pensions.

The report did, however, find that the proportion of women in EU national parliaments has risen from 16 per cent in 1997 to just under a quarter (24 per cent) in 2008.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the gender pay gap widened in the UK between 2007 and 2008.