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March 8th is a day to celebrate women and highlight that there’s still so much work to be done. 


As the world comes together to mark International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8th, we’re pausing to highlight the attacks on women’s rights and gender equality. This global event, first created in Europe in 1911, celebrates women’s and girls’ social, cultural, economic, and political accomplishments and the progress we’ve made towards gender equality. It also prompts us to recognize the fact that in the midst of global conflict, violence against women has increased, their access to sexual and reproductive health services has eroded, and girls’ enrollment in schools has dropped significantly.

Gender equality is an ongoing battle, with the hardest hit being those with intersecting social identities in the realms of race, gender expression, disability, and socio-economic class. Over 100 years after the creation of IWD, women, girls, and female-identifying people are still denied the rights and liberties that men and boys have, without question. Learn more about current threats to women’s and girls rights and hear from some champions of change on the frontlines of gender equality in Canada and around the world.

Threats to Girls and Women Globally

Despite progress over the last century, significant threats against women and girls still endanger our safety, self-determination, and equality. Among the most devastating challenges are persistent barriers to education, domestic and sexual violence, and the rise of hate towards women in public positions. Countless hard-working activists and nonprofit organizations need our support. We spoke with Dr. Lauryn Oates, executive director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, about some of the toughest issues facing women today.

Barriers to Education

UNICEF estimates that 129 million girls around the world are not in school. Education gaps are even starker in countries impacted by fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV). Girls in FCV countries are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school, with 90% of them more likely to be out of secondary school. Whether due to gender bias, poverty, child marriage, infrastructure, or violence, millions of women miss out on the self-reliance and empowerment that education supports.

Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan) and Dr. Lauryn Oates are dedicated to supporting Afghan women and girls and advocating for their right to education. Their projects provides educational opportunities to hundreds of Afghan young women and offer interventions in education, health, social protection, water, infrastructure, and more. 

Dr. Oates pointed out that the erosion of access to education since the Taliban returned to power is one of the most significant threats to women in that country. “The loss of the right to education is especially painful,” she said. “We hear daily from women and girls about how this has impacted them. So many say they feel a sense of hopelessness. Education is tied to goals and dreams, one’s sense of themselves, and their future.”

The impact of these barriers is far-reaching. “Without the right to education, many women and girls say it’s like having no future,” said Dr. Oates. “Not surprisingly, there’s been an alarming mental health impact, and tragically, the suicide rate among Afghan women has skyrocketed.”

CW4WAfghan offers a range of programs and technology that give Afghan women and girls their right to education. “After the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, we introduced a new option to our virtual learning platforms—an online high school, “ said Oates. “The Darakht-e Danesh Classroom enrolls girls in grades 7–10 who study online, and we plan to expand up to grade 12 by the end of next year.”

Violence Against Women

Another profound threat to women’s rights is gender-based violence. Brutality against women and girls remains a global crisis, with alarming rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, and femicide reported around the world. Marginalized people, including women of colour, LGBTQIA, folks who are unhoused, and others, face even greater violence and barriers to much-needed justice and support. 

Dr. Oates at CW4WAfghan said that the Taliban’s return to power has meant an increase in violence and regressive policies against women, including the closure of women’s shelters, the firing of all women judges and prosecutors, and the eradication of the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) Law.

“After Taliban rule ended in 2001, Afghan women made huge strides against gender-based violence. They opened women’s shelters across Afghanistan. Legal aid clinics helped women leave abusive marriages by obtaining divorces. Women judges and lawyers were working again, and putting abusers in prison under the new law,” said Dr. Oates. “The taboo on talking about violence against women started to crumble, and Afghan media began openly discussing the issue.” 

Sadly, that progress has been a casualty of the Taliban’s return to power. “They shut down the women’s shelters, fired all women judges and prosecutors, dissolved Afghanistan’s parliament, and ignored all laws passed under the previous regime, including the EVAW Law,” she shared. “There’s virtually total impunity now for those who perpetrate violence against women, whether in private or public. In fact, there are well-documented cases of senior Taliban officials who have committed terrible violence to women.”

Attacks on women in public positions

Along with threats to pay equity and women’s rights, women and girls face barriers that impede their full participation in many spheres. Targets of hate both online and in the real world, the worst of the attacks are suffered by Black, Indigenous, and racialized women.

Canadian politicians, journalists, and activists face discrimination, hate speech, and violence in increasing numbers. Threats include trolling, vandalism, hate mail, death threats, and physical violence. Canadian public life incidents are rising due to threats against race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. In 2023, Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, Mary May Simon, had to close social media comments and post the following statement: “In recent months, we have witnessed an increase in abusive, misogynistic, and racist engagement on social media and online platforms, including a greater number of violent threats.”

What can you do on International Women’s Day 2024?

Thankfully, there are a myriad of ways to get involved on International Women’s Day and throughout the year. 

Wear purple clothing on IWD. Show your support with the colour that symbolizes the fight for gender equality. 

Amplify marginalized voices. Seek out and share the voices of girls and women from marginalized communities in Canada and beyond to help increase awareness of their experiences and perspectives. 

Donate to charities or cause funds that support women. CW4WAfghan, for example, is grateful for people who donate and fundraise by hosting fundraising potluck dinners in their community to help subsidize their numerous education programs for Afghan women. Unite for Change’s Period Equity Fund helps support charities increasing access to menstrual products and education. While the Women’s Health in Focus Fund supports charities working to create equitable healthcare for women by offering critical services include mental and physical health care, sexual and reproductive education, and essential medication to women in need.

Volunteer to empower girls and women. Share your expertise and skills with Canadian organizations like Hackergal, Camfed, and Aura Freedom International that strive for gender justice and equality. 

CW4WAfghan is run with the help of compassionate volunteers, and Dr. Lauryn Oates shared some of the ways you can help. “We have chapters in 10 communities across Canada,” said Oates. “Chapter members fundraise, host events, raise awareness, and host other activities that support our programs. Some people help with the resettlement of Afghans in their communities. People can join, or even start, a local chapter. We need volunteer teachers, tutors, and facilitators to support our students online, especially with English language learning.” 

Share inspirational stories of women. Spread the word about International Women’s Day on social media and among friends and family. When you raise awareness of IWD activities and charities, you help women and girls get the recognition and respect they deserve. You also help sustain women-led initiatives that work tirelessly to advance women’s rights and empower marginalized people in our communities.


The fight for gender equality is far from over, but by acknowledging the threats, amplifying marginalized voices, and taking concrete action, we help create a world where all girls and women are free to thrive and lead.

This article was written by Heather Maxwell Hall. She is a Vancouver Island-based freelance writer and editor who’s been creating content for diverse publications and clients over a decade.

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