Instead of widespread celebrations, International Women’s Day 2024 sparked heightened global alerts with the “rollback in rights” that challenged women’s rights. The UN Women underscored that a key challenge to achieving gender equality by 2030 is “a staggering $360 billion annual deficit in spending on gender-equality measures.”

“We must do more to invest in women’s rights organizations. These organizations must have flexible and predictable financing that matches the scale of need with the power of their movement and voice,” said Sima Bahous, UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director, at the opening of the 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in early March.

The heightened backlash against gender equality worldwide, including in the U.S., has resulted in what the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called a “rollback in rights” for women and girls worldwide. Emphasizing how “globally, poverty has a female face” and patriarchy “is regaining ground,” he pressed: “We cannot accept a world in which grandmothers fear their granddaughters will enjoy fewer rights than they had. We must speak out, loud and clear: Not on our watch.”

“Women are still significantly underrepresented in negotiations and peace processes. Yet the research shows that when women and civil society are involved, a peace agreement is more likely to be reached and 64% less likely to fail.  In today’s conflict-ridden world, gender parity in all aspects of peace processes is an existential imperative,” says Cynthia Lazaroff, Founder of Women Transforming Our Nuclear Legacy & NuclearWakeUpCall.Earth.

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Founder and CEO of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), points out the “age of extremism, characterized by the weaponization of Ethno-national and religious identities, hyper-masculinity, and subjugation and control of women.  The ban on abortion and the Taliban ban on girls’ education are indicative of this phenomenon.” Furthermore, living in “the age of impunity” she says, has resulted in unprecedented “levels of violence against women in many contexts, especially in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. The Israeli genocide against Gaza is a case in point.”

“Finally, we are also living and witnessing the age of women’s power and leadership – not in the stereotypical political realm but in communities across countries globally. We see this in our work at ICAN and the WASL network we spearhead–they are challenging extremisms, working on community security, mitigating violence, and building peace in the world’s toughest spots. 

It’s not easy to challenge the powerful, but a clear sign of impact is when the powerful react. So, we are witnessing the power of the backlash against them. But we must persist and not allow the backlash to dominate.”

Extreme Poverty And Climate Change Affect Mostly Women

Consider these facts published by the U.N.

  • 1 in 10 women worldwide lives in extreme poverty and on less than $2.15 a day.
  • Women earn only 51 cents for every dollar that men earn.
  • With over 614 million women & girls living in conflict zones—they are 8 times more prone to extreme poverty.
  • Over two-thirds of those killed and injured in Israel’s military operations in Gaza are reportedly women and children.
“We see more and more men stand together with women for a more fair, open, and humane world,” says journalist Nadezda Azhgikhina

“Women’s struggle for their rights has already changed the world and global environment in politics, economy, peacebuilding, and culture. More and more women focus on broad issues and suggest new ways of solving very critical problems. Today it is clear that women work not only for women but for everybody. At the same time, we see more and more men stand together with women for a more fair, open, and humane world,” says Nadezda Azhgikhina, Russian journalist, writer, and board member of Women’s World and New Amazones groups.  “But many basic points we believed established forever, are challenged. Fundamentalism, nationalism, and populism all attack and undermine human rights and universal standards–but first and foremost they attempt to attack, divide, and try to deceive and use women. It is a global trend.”

Another issue affecting women is drastic climate change. Some 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. By 2030, it is estimated that 236 million more women and girls will be hungry because of climate change. 

“In legislation, women’s rights are moving forward, but slowly. In protection, it’s deteriorating with refugees, health-related support, and the right to live. One-third of people in the MENA are facing major crimes, including genocide in Palestine, and rapes in Sudan,” says Shirine Jurdi, Lebanon-based WPS (Women, Peace, and Security) expert.

In 2024, the UN confirmed Afghanistan as the world’s most repressive country for women and girls as the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021 increased harsher restrictions on women’s participation in education, workforce, freedom of movement, and dress code. The gender apartheid–exacerbated by prolonged drought and the 6.3-magnitude earthquake in the northwestern province of Herat–further heightened the severe humanitarian crisis. 

“While the world celebrated International Women’s Day this year, Afghan women’s rights are systematically stripped away—be it in education, work, freedom of movement, dress/attire restrictions, to public participation, bodily autonomy, freedom of expression….the list goes on,” says Malalai Habibi, Amnesty International USA, Afghanistan Advocacy Fellow. “The international community must unequivocally convey to the Taliban leaders that their discriminatory treatment, policies, and restrictions towards women and girls constitute crimes, including gender persecution under international law and will not, under any circumstances, be tolerated.”

While women cultivate and grow between 60-80% of the world’s staple crops–more women continue to be food insecure. If women farmers were afforded equal resources and financial backing as men, they could tackle food insecurity and lift some 150 million people around the globe out of hunger. Yet, there’s a backlash.

Dr. Nazand Begikhani–poet and Vincent Wright Chair at Sciences Po Paris–cites how “Research around the world demonstrates that women’s rights have recently faced a serious backlash from reactionary patriarchal forces. According to my fieldwork in the Middle East, this backlash is rooted not only in multiple worldwide political and economic crises but also in reaction to the progress women have made in the last few decades.”

Begikhani cites how in Kurdistan, for instance, “women who experience multiple intersectional forms of oppression and discrimination have been in the forefront of the fight against traditional social norms, terrorism, and radical ideologies. Men, for whom masculinity and virility are especially highly prized personality traits, have felt destabilized by the progress women have been making. Also, they appear to misunderstand the aims and objectives of feminism and gender equality movements.”

The Council on Foreign Relations Global Conflict Tracker lists 32 ongoing conflicts worldwide including in Israel-Palestine, Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, the Sahel, Myanmar, Haiti, Taiwan, Sudan, and Congo among others. While in 2023, violent conflicts killed nearly 147,000 people worldwide–the gendered cost of wars for women is exposure “to the repeated assaults and enduring destruction of conflict.”

Begikhani believes “women need to engage with and work alongside men as much as they work on and with women themselves.” She underscores how women must “lead a mutual struggle to pave the way for better understanding of women’s freedom and gender equality. In Kurdistan, this movement could take root from Kurdish women’s history, women’s resilience, and resistance, like that of my mother, rather than always referring to Western feminist history and the controversial concept of gender. To avoid antagonism and further acrimony we must find common values rather than focusing on what divides us. I am a reconciliatory feminist who does not compromise on my principles, yet at the same time, I try not to antagonize men, who could be my son, my brothers, my father, and my partner.”

“But women’s solidarity is also a global reality with deep roots in history and our contemporary life. Women will manage. Women work for the future, peace, openness, dialogue, respect for others, development, and progress, and cultural and people-to-people, citizens exchange. And women’s work is never done,” believes Azhgikhina.