Agencies (8/3/2008) – Calls to end forced marriage, domestic abuse and job discrimination marked International Women’s Day on Saturday as demonstrators took to the streets worldwide.
The issues highlighted crossed a wide spectrum, including abortion rights in Italy, violence against women in Iraq and women hostages in Colombia.
Nearly 100 years old, the day marks the worldwide struggle for equal rights for half the globe’s population.
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai spoke out against forced marriages and said threats from a Taliban-led insurgency were keeping girls out of school.
"I call on religious leaders, tribal elders and particularly men: stop forcing your under-aged girls to marry, stop marrying them to old men," he said
Up to 80 percent of Afghan women face forced marriage, and nearly two-thirds are married before the legal age of 16, according to the United Nations.
Scores of women rallied outside a Baghdad hotel demanding an end to violence and equal social status with men.
"Stop neglecting women. Stop killing women. Stop creating widows," read a large banner that the women, from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, held at the Babylon Hotel in Baghdad’s central Karrada neighborhood.
Gatherings took place in India, Indonesia and China as activists pressed for an end to discrimination ranging from abortion of female foetuses to workplace bias.
Australian women’s minister Tanya Plibersek said the occasion was a chance to acknowledge issues such as women’s lack of financial independence.
"From the moment a woman enters the workforce she is likely to earn less than her male colleagues, regardless of her career, industry or level," she said.
Events were also planned in neighbouring Pakistan, where "honour killings" of women and punishment gang-rapes have been widely reported.
Minhaj-ul-Quran International a non-political, non-sectarian, non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1980 in Lahore, organized a rally of their own marking international women day. Women participating in the rally held placards reading "we can give our lives for his name" (for the prophet’s name).
The group has emerged as one of the fastest growing organisations since it was founded and is now working in over 100 countries around the globe. It’s aim is to revive the message of the Quran and sunnah in light of the modern and moderate interpretation. Its emphasis is towards the betterment of masses on social, cultural, and religious aspects and to enlighten them with the knowledge of their rights and duties and to present a realistic, rational and scientific picture of Islam.
Communist North Korea marked International Women’s Day in its own way by urging its women to reject Western fashions and to "set good examples" in their clothes and hairstyles.
In Europe, job inequality, domestic abuse and abortion rights were highlighted.
Tens of thousands demonstrated in several Italian cities in favor of the right to abortion — legalized in that country 30 years ago, but unexpectedly a hot topic ahead of April elections.
Nearly 2,000 people gathered in Warsaw over abortion rights. Poland, like Italy a heavily Roman Catholic nation, has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws.
A demonstration in France drew attention to French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt, seized by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in February 2002 as she campaigned for the Colombian presidency.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for an end to pay inequality between men and women, and pledged to institute financial sanctions to address the problem.
In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, thousands of women protested to demand punishment for those who commit sexual violence, including rape.
"The law on sexual violence is not applied," said Esperance Katungu. "Women are often not informed of their rights."
More than 7,000 cases of sexual violence were reported in 2007 in the eastern Nord-Kivu province of the DR Congo, which was also hit by heavy clashes between the army and militias last year.
In neighbouring Sud-Kivu province, 15,056 cases of sexual violence were reported over the same period.