International Women’s Day: Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges

This Sunday 8th March is International Women’s Day! This is a day when the world celebrates women’s achievements, recognizes challenges and focuses greater attention on women’s rights and gender equality.

To mark the occasion, FRANK Water will be taking part in Bristol Women’s Voice workshop entitled “Building Bridges”. Katie Alcott, FRANK Water’s Founder and Director, will be taking part in a panel discussion on the role of women in environmental initiatives, whilst Chloe Tingle who is just completing an internship with FRANK Water will be launching her new social enterprise, No More Taboo. See below for full details of the event and other activities happening this weekend!  

In this blog, FRANK Water’s Programme Coordinator Sarika Seshadri takes a look at the history of International Women’s Day, why 2015 is a historic year, and shares some photos which capture this year’s UN theme, “empowering women, empowering humanity: picture it”! 

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day has its roots in workers’ struggles in the early part of the 20th century. The first national women’s day was observed in the US in 1909 to mark the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York. In the following years, women’s days were designated in countries across the world to mark women’s struggles for the right to work, vote and exercise their rights as citizens.

In 1975, the UN designated the 8th of March as the official international women’s day and in 1995, the Beijing Declaration was declared, in which 189 governments agreed a roadmap for action focusing on 12 critical areas of concern for women.

The Beijing Declaration was the outcome of the fourth world conference on women. It was historic because it brought advocates and governments together to agree on specific targets to “remove all the obstacles to women’s active participation in all spheres of public and private life”.

Twenty years on from the Beijing Declaration, some progress has been made. The number of female MPs in the world’s parliaments has doubled, more girls are enrolled in secondary school and maternal mortality rates have decreased. However much work remains. Women still only make up one in five parliamentarians. At the present rate of progress, it will take 81 years for women to achieve parity in employment. One in three women are affected by domestic violence. The gender wage gap remains at around 20%. Women spend on average three times more time on unpaid care work. Every day, 39,000 girls are married below the minimum legal age, and there are an estimated 90 million “missing women” due to female infanticide, sex-selective abortions and unequal access to health and nutrition in infancy.

As our programme manager Jon outlined in our last blog, this will be a crucial year to change this record. From 9-20 March, the 59th Commission on the Status of Women will review global implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and take stock of where women stand in the world today.

2015 will also see two unique political processes taking place- one that will lead to the adoption later this year of the Sustainable Development Goals and another that is expected to endorse the first climate treaty in a generation- which will offer an unprecedented opportunity to dramatically transform the lives of women and girls and fulfill their human rights.

Picture It!

Marking this historic year, the theme for International Women’s Day 2015, is “empowering women, empowering humanity: picture it”. In this blog, I would like to share three pictures, which for me capture this theme.

Credit: PRaveena Sridhar 

Credit: PRaveena Sridhar 

This is Phoolvani Naik. She is 18 years old and lives in Majhi Ukhura village in Odisha in Eastern India. With our local partner Gram Vikas, FRANK Water has been worked with her community to ensure that every single household has a safe water supply, a toilet and a bathing room.  

Water, sanitation and hygiene education are particularly crucial issues for women and girls who are usually responsible for fetching water, often from remote and unsafe sources. They are also the ones who bear the brunt of a lack of sanitation, waiting until dark to find a private place to go to the toilet.

Providing convenient access to clean drinking water and safe toilets would save women nearly 150 billion hours that are currently spent collecting water and finding private areas to defecate. (Action 2015, 2015)

Meanwhile when schools do not have toilets, it is girls who drop out, and it is women who suffer when adequate facilities are not available for safe menstrual hygiene management.

In India, a quarter of all girls leave school when they menstruate due inadequate products and facilities. (WSSCC, 2013)

Access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene should be crucial priorities for global development so that girls like Phoolvani can attend school with dignity: “I don’t need to rush to fetch water before and after school. I have more time to study and more privacy too”.

CREDIT: Sarika seshadri 

CREDIT: Sarika seshadri 

My second picture is more of a personal reflection. This is Praveena Sridhar (left), FRANK Water’s India Coordinator, and Seema Ravandale (right), from our partner the People’s Science Institute (PSI). This photo was taken when we were exploring some of the previous work that PSI had been doing on micro-watershed development. On our travels, we formed a friendship, which made us all reflect on the camaraderie that we often felt with the women that we worked with- NGO staff, community members, supporters- and how important that has been for all of us. I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by many such inspiring women, who with humour, warmth and understanding have helped to directly support and empower those around them.

Of course, this applies to men as well, which leads me to my final picture.

Credit: praveena sridhar

Credit: praveena sridhar

This a photo taken with a community in Himachal Pradesh and the man on the left is Hiralal Bharti. A senior programme manager at PSI, he guided Praveena, Seema and myself through the work that he had been doing with communities in this area, where everyone greeted him with delight, even in areas where their work together had been completed ten years previously. In one such community, it was the women who were sustaining the work, vocally holding their local representative to account in a public meeting that we attended. At the same time, during our travels, we heard him speak to his family on the phone with infectious warmth and affection.

Hiralal sadly passed away last year, and his loss is felt by all of those that he worked and lived with. In his honour then, I would like to celebrate all the people, men and women, who are working to empower women and empower humanity this women’s day!

 Take Part:


  • SUPPORT FRANK Water and help more women and girls in India gain access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education. Donate here


  • TWEET us @frankwater using the twitter handles #action2015 and #IWD or #IWD2015.


  • FIND OUT more about International Women’s Day, the Beijing declaration and the 12 critical areas of concern: