International Women’s Day emerged from the activities of labour movements at the turn of the 20th century in North America and across Europe. In its early years, the day honoured the women’s rights movement, including advocating for the right to vote and to hold public office, and for ending discrimination in the workplace. 

On March 8, we observe this day as a time to reflect on progress, to call for change, and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by women who have made a difference in their communities and countries.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 was “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.” It celebrated a future in which innovation and technology create unprecedented opportunities for women and girls to play an active role in building inclusive, efficient services and sustainable infrastructure to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and gender equality. By investing in women around the world, we are investing in families, we are investing in prosperity, and we are investing in peace.

Earlier this year, Special Advisor Ivanka Trump launched the Administration’s historic initiative to empower women globally to fulfil their economic potential.  She said, “Investing in women is vital for our collective economic prosperity and global stability. When we empower women, communities prosper and countries thrive.” The Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative is a holistic approach focused on advancing women’s full and free participation in the global economy. 

The Initiative has three pillars of focus:  to help women prosper in the workforce by improving their access to quality education and skills training; to improve efforts to fund and support women’s entrepreneurship and access to capital, markets, technical assistance and mentorship; and to identify and reduce the policy, legal and regulatory barriers to women’s participation in the global economy and to promote improved practices.

This initiative builds on the WomenConnect Challenge, launched in 2018, to increase women’s access to digital technology and bridge the gender divide through comprehensive solutions that empower women and girls to access and use digital technology to drive positive health, education and careers for themselves and their families.

Women’s political participation results in tangible gains for democracy

It builds on the Administration’s 2X Women’s Initiative through which the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) mobilised $1 billion to support women in the developing world.  The projects will support lending to women-owned businesses and female entrepreneurs and mobilise private investment to address critical development challenges and stimulate economic growth in emerging economies.

Locally, we are proud to support our Maltese partners in efforts to increase the participation of women in all sectors of society. This month, Tracy Prince, a Fulbright Specialist with Spazju Kreattiv, participated in their ‘Art+Feminism’ programme to analyse and counter the gender gap on Wikipedia, especially in regard to female artists, and encourage Wikipedia editors in Malta to give more visibility to female artists. 

We are sponsoring the Gaulitana Festival of Music, which hosts American artist-in-residence Alexander Frey. The festival celebrates women’s leadership in society and focuses on female composers, artists and performers.

Some of my colleagues will participate in a mentoring event for girls, organised by the Business and Professional Women (BPW) Malta. Female mentors, from all walks of life, will share their successful experiences with schoolgirls and inspire them to reach their full potential.   

Every year, as part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, we honour our nominee for the annual Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award. The award pays tribute to women who have exemplified exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for human rights, women’s equality and social progress.

In the coming months we plan to work with our partners on initiatives to promote women’s economic empowerment and to encourage women’s participation in civil and political spheres. As Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, said, “Women in power can be counted on to raise issues that others overlook, to support ideas that others oppose, and to seek an end to abuses that others accept.”

Women’s political participation results in tangible gains for democracy, including greater responsiveness to citizen needs, increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines, and a more sustainable future.

I invite readers to follow our Facebook page to learn about influential American women who have changed the course of our shared history. Throughout the month of March – Women’s History Month – we will celebrate noteworthy female trailblazers. 

On International Women’s Day, we remember the women of the past; we celebrate the women of today; and we lay the foundation for the women of tomorrow. But most importantly, we pledge to make a change, knowing that our world can reach its full potential only when women and girls are empowered to reach theirs. 

Mark A. Schapiro is Chargé d’Affaires, US Embassy.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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