New warriors in the battle for equality

Plenty of young women attended the recent U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting, and some of them, unfortunately, were telling the same old story.

Taurai Sandra Chinyerere, a 26-year-old United Methodist from Zimbabwe, was actively discouraged from pursuing studies in information technology that, in the eyes of some, were “meant for men.” Even after she achieved her goal, she had to take a long-used back-door route to employment in her chosen profession. She started as a receptionist before landing a position as an IT specialist within the same company.

Based on the hallway chatter I heard, other young women had similar experiences to share, which made the “priority theme” of the meeting — “access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology” — even more timely. You can read my story at http://goo.gl/yR9CH.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. Fittingly, given the world’s focus on democracy demonstrations in the Middle East, Egyptian activists have called for a “Million Women March” to highlight their demands for “fair and equal representation for all Egyptian citizens.”

A century earlier, more than a million women and men attended rallies supporting women’s right to work, vote and hold public office. Through the decades, International Women’s Day has evolved from its socialist beginnings to “a global day of recognition and celebration.” Countries as diverse as Azerbaijan, Laos and Zambia mark it as an official holiday.

And yet, the voices from the Methodist delegation to the Commission on the Status of Women reminded me that the battle to achieve equality for women and girls must be fought over and over again.

Margarita Fatima Souza Ribero of Brazil talked about Anna, an illiterate mother of three, abused by her husband, who migrated to Sao Paulo in search of a better life and received training in the construction trades, despite the fact that “this is considered men’s work in Brazil.”

Fea Elizabeth Saffa described how she and the 50/50 group of Sierra Leone are training women to go into politics – fighting a mindset in the Kono diamond district that “the girl child is meant to be at home doing domestic chores.”

Ilia Vasquez Gaston discussed her struggle to incorporate domestic violence and gender issues into the curriculum of Puerto Rico’s primary and secondary schools, a task made more difficult by opposition from religious groups, among others.

But Gaston is another of those young women, like Taurai Sandra Chinyerere, who don’t take “you can’t do that” for an answer. In fact, she’s doing everything.

The coordinator of a violence against women prevention program for the 11 campuses of the University of Puerto Rico, Gaston also is a doctoral student, active member of the Puerto Rico Psychology Association, social activist and pastor’s wife. She is part of the national committee of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) in Puerto Rico and networks with other young professional women. Now, that network has extended to the United Nations.

There are battles to be won, but we have a new generation of warriors to fight them.

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