MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin — All across the world, women experience varying forms of discrimination based on skewed gender perceptions. Women face cultural, political and economic issues ranging from gender-based violence to underrepresentation and economic exclusion. These issues, among others, contribute to the fact that poverty disproportionately impacts women in comparison to men. Globally, 247 million women are living below the poverty line in comparison to 236 million men. Gender inequalities create societies where women suffer marginalization and cannot reach their full potential. It is this overlap between gender issues and poverty that the National Organization for Women (NOW) seeks to address with its advocacy and mobilization efforts.
The Importance of Gender Equality
Recognizing the importance of gender equality in global development, the United Nations (U.N.) included gender quality as Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The U.N. emphasizes that “gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.”
The U.N. highlights some of the global violations against women, explaining that in 18 legal systems across the world, a husband has a legal right to prohibit his wife from obtaining employment. In 39 nations, “daughters and sons do not have equal inheritance rights” and 49 nations do not have legislation in place to legally prohibit domestic violence.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionate impacts on women and widens existing inequalities. This means the global gender gap will now take 135.6 years to close in comparison to 99.5 years noted before the impacts of the pandemic. While Iceland currently stands closest to achieving gender parity, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan are the furthest from achieving gender equality.
Global poverty eradication cannot fully materialize without addressing global gender inequality. In an article, Margarita Astralaga from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) writes that “in economies where gender equality is greater in terms of both opportunities and benefits, there is higher economic growth and a better quality of life.”
Origins of the National Organization for Women (NOW)
NOW, a title indicative of the urgency of advancing women’s rights, is an organization with a long history. NOW is a U.S.-based organization formed in 1966 by a group of feminists, including well-known feminist Betty Friedan, to promote the rights and liberties of women and establish that women’s rights are indeed a part of civil rights.
NOW’s work focuses on a variety of core issues impacting equality for women, such as economic injustices and gender-based violence. Although its founders formed NOW with the goal of advancing women’s rights in the United States, NOW’s work also extends to promoting and upholding the rights of women globally. In an interview with The Borgen Project, NOW’s press team says that the organization recognizes that “some of the biggest injustices to women are faced outside the U.S. in countries where the culture places no value on women and girls.” As such, NOW partners with women’s rights campaigns and programs outside of the U.S. “to show solidarity [with]women around the world.”
Justice For Jeyasre
NOW prioritizes women’s rights and gender equality issues on a global scale. The organization’s press team mentions that, in 2021, “NOW represented the United States at the Justice For Jeyasre Vigil to bring awareness about sexual violence happening to garment factory workers in India.” Jeyasre Kathiravel was a 21-year-old woman from Tamil Nadu, India. Kathiravel worked as a garment worker at a clothing factory called Natchi Apparel in Tamil Nadu, which supplies the clothing brand H&M. On January 1, 2021, Kathiravel “did not return home from work.” Her body was found in a wasteland days later — she was raped and killed by her supervisor. Since then, many other women came forward with reports of abuse and harassment at the garment factory.
On April 21, 2021, more than 1,000 people from 33 nations came together to show solidarity with Kathiravel’s family and the union she formed part of, Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU). At the vigil, several members of women’s rights groups and unions expressed their support for ending gender-based violence in garment factories across the world as a matter of urgency.
At the vigil, NOW President Christian Nunes said: “We must reinvent workplace cultures that treat women as subservient and powerless … Jeyasre Kathiravel was part of this struggle to end gender-based violence and harassment in her workplace … we must continue to say her name.”
From a small group of women pulling together resources, the National Organization for Women has evolved into one of the largest feminist organizations in the U.S. By advocating for the rights of women across the world, NOW stays true to its mission to “lead societal change, eliminate discrimination and achieve and protect the equal rights of all women and girls in all aspects of social, political and economic life.” With the commitment of organizations such as NOW, the world inches one step closer to achieving global gender parity.
– Owen Mutiganda