Op-Ed: International Women’s Day 2023
By: Asya Varbanova, Country Director, UN Women Türkiye
Each year, March 8th International Women’s Day is the time to celebrate women and girls around the world and their remarkable achievements in the persisting struggle for equality and justice. This is also the time to recognize that equality has yet to be achieved in nearly all aspects of life – political participation and representation, economic participation, and the ability to live a life free from violence and discrimination. Such gaps remain globally and in Türkiye. This year’s International Women’s Day is marked under the shadow of the devastating earthquakes that struck South-Eastern Türkiye just over one month ago, killing over 46,000 people and injuring thousands more. Today, we recognize the strength, bravery, and resilience of all the women who have been instrumental in the hours, days and weeks following the disaster – the unsung heroines who have held others up while their own worlds crumbled around them. And we honor the countless women and girls who lost their homes, livelihoods, and loved ones.
Crises such as this one disproportionately impact women and girls, and has the risk to deepen pre-existing inequalities. The depth and breadth of adversities facing the roughly seven million women and girls in the provinces hardest hit by the earthquake is extraordinary. Initial rapid assessments by the UN on the impact of the crisis and the feedback provided to UN Women by women’s organizations active in the field show that women and girls face particular challenges to access essential services and vital relief items, to remain safe and cover their basic needs for appropriate shelter, hygiene and sanitation, healthcare and protection. This is particularly acute for women with specific needs such as those who are pregnant and breastfeeding, who are single and single mothers, with disabilities or from rural areas.
Additionally, crises often intensify different forms of violence against women and girls, who face increased risk amidst volatile conditions such as the loss of homes and shelter that can leave them particularly exposed and vulnerable. Even before the crisis, the level of reporting of domestic violence to the competent authorities in the 11 affected provinces was relatively low. This means that dedicated efforts are needed to ensure that women and girls receive the needed information, services and support to remain safe, and for violence to be prevented from happening in the first place. To meet such intensified needs and in support to the government-led response, UN Women, together with public authorities, civil society organizations, other UN agencies and private sector partners, mounted a swift response targeting the most at-risk women and girls in the affected region and those relocated to other provinces.
In collaboration with our partners, we have been distributing essential supplies to help them cope with the disaster conditions and providing psycho-social support as well as critical information on their rights and available services, including hotlines to report violence. Beyond this immediate assistance, we are preparing programs to support the restoration of women’s livelihoods such as support to women’s businesses and women’s cooperatives, which have been heavily affected as well as necessary re-skilling with a specific focus on those women who are most left behind such as women with disabilities and rural women.
UN Women is working closely with the rest of the UN system to ensure that the overall support provided to meet urgent life-saving and life-sustaining needs as well as longer term recovery and reconstruction, takes into account the needs and priorities of women and girls. For this to happen, it is critical to hear from and listen to women themselves, and to involve them equally in decision-making processes on what the post-earthquake future should look like. If women’s agency is not sustained at every level, their short- and long-term needs will not be met. This is crucial not only to build back but to build back towards a future marked by equality and sustainability and to become more resilient to future crises. Women’s empowerment and leadership remain key to achieving sustainable development.
This year globally, International Women’s Day is marked under the theme “DigitALL: Innovation and technological for gender equality”. The digital age is bringing unprecedented opportunities to improve the lives of women and girls around the world, and their access to digital networks, platforms and technologies can sometimes be life-saving. However, women’s access to technology around the world and in Türkiye is lower than men’s. Their underrepresentation in STEM education and careers remains a major barrier to their participation in tech design and governance. In the face of multiple global crises, UN Women is calling on governments, activists and the private sector alike to power on in their efforts to make the digital world safer, more inclusive and more equitable, and to draw fully on the perspectives, experiences and talents of women. This is not only a matter of rights, but can significantly improve the way communities and countries prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.
The road ahead is long, but our commitment to women and girls now, in their darkest hour, is stronger than ever. We draw inspiration from the courage and dedication of all those women who took action, saved lives, and became the beacon of hope for so many. So on this International Women’s Day – against the backdrop of profound grief and despair – let us not only remember the needs of women and girls who are affected by the earthquake, but take action in solidarity to ensure that they are not left behind.