Blog: International Women’s Day & the Quest for Human Dignity

By Henry E. Chang, Executive Director, Doctors of the World USA

For us at Doctors of the World, International Women’s Day (IWD) is an important day. Celebrated annually on March 8th, this year’s theme as selected by the U.N. for International Women’s Day is: Equality for women is progress for all.” Many Americans may be surprised to learn that, in many countries, ranging from Ukraine to Afghanistan, IWD is an official national holiday and is celebrated with gifts and gestures of kindness toward women (a bit like Mother’s Day is in the United States). It also serves as an opportunity to raise awareness about issues facing women today.

Much has been achieved in the realm of women’s rights over the past century since March 1911, when IWD was first celebrated.  But in our everyday work around the globe we are reminded daily of the need to continuously spread awareness of the challenges facing women and girls, particularly with regards to health provision.

Globally, certain core facts remind us of the scale of the harm that occurs when social policies deny women access to basic health services. Did you know that about 300,000 women die every year from pregnancy related complications or unsafe abortions? Our global Women’s Rights Campaign, launched out of Paris this month, will help spread awareness of certain frightening statistics. Statistics that must be reversed for progress in health and human rights to be achieved.

The most rewarding part of our work often stems from our ability to not only care for the sick but also offer preventive medical care to populations at risk, globally and locally. From the uninsured female patients who visit our clinic in the Rockaways in Queens to the immigrant sex-workers we are able to reach out to via mobile health deployments at the heart of Paris itself, we are looking at populations that need more than just charity, but a public commitment to protecting human dignity; the kind of commitment that is has been at the heart of the International Women’s Rights movement itself from the start.