Even though they make up at least half the population, women and girls have endured discrimination in most societies for thousands of years. In the past, women were treated as property of their husbands or fathers - they couldn't own land, they couldn't vote or go to school, and they could be beaten and abused. Over the last hundred years, much progress has been made to gain equal rights for women around the world, but many still live without the rights to which all people are entitled.
Women's Equality Day commemorates the certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting American women the right to vote in 1920. This occasion has been celebrated since 1973 by Presidential Proclamation after a bill introduced by Congresswoman Bella Abzug. Women's Equality Day is an opportunity to celebrate the victories for equality that women have won, and to rededicate our commitment to eliminate discrimination against women.
The United Nations Charter was a major milestone for women's rights because it was the first international agreement to affirm the equality between men and women. Since then, the UN has been an important advocate for the rights of women, adopting an international bill of rights for women in 1979 and sponsoring four global women's conferences. The Millennium Development Goals, which all nations agreed to at the UN in 2000, sets tangible goals for nations to achieve by 2015, several of which deal directly with empowering women.
International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8 is another annual rallying point to build support for the rights of women everywhere.