An abundance of good news appeared during the first week of women’s history month.

Women’s equality is important or very important to 84 percent of men and 86 percent of women among 14,896 respondents polled in the world’s 16 largest nations, according to a poll prepared for the March 8 observation of International Women’s Day, conducted by Washington, D.C.-based World Public Opinion.

People in 14 of 16 nations favored a stronger role for the United Nations in preventing discrimination. In Turkey, 91 percent of respondents support equal rights for women; in both Mexico and the United Kingdom, 89 percent; in Indonesia, 81 percent; and in the United States, 77 percent.

In China, more than 125,000 people have added their names to a UNIFEM online campaign to end violence against women. Nearly 200,000 people around the world have joined in the effort, based on U.N. statistics that show 1 in 3 women suffers physical or sexual violence during her lifetime.

In Britain, opposition leader and Conservative Party candidate David Cameron promised to give one-third of ministerial jobs in his government to women, the Telegraph reported March 2. Currently, 6 of 28 members of the opposition’s shadow cabinet are female. And to combat violence against women, the Million Women Rise Coalition is marching in London today, demanding the government develop a national strategy to end gender-based violence.

In South Africa, women marched in miniskirts to protest harassment from taxi drivers, the Johannesburg Star reported March 5. Men joined in the 300-person march responding to the sexual assault of Nwabisa Ngcukana, 25, who was stripped of her clothes and physically and verbally harassed at a taxi stand in Soweto for wearing a miniskirt two weeks ago.

The New York-based Goldman Sachs Group pledged $100 million to pay for the business education of 10,000 women in emerging economies worldwide over the next five years. Schools receiving grants will offer flexible, short-term education programs to women who lack access to traditional business programs for monetary or other reasons.

In the United States, the housework gender gap is closing, according to a March 6 report from the Council on Contemporary Families. Men have become four times more involved in housework and three times more active in child care in the past four decades, suggesting a generational shift in gender roles. Women cut back their average housework load by two hours over the same period.

Heather Baudin, a high school junior in Wasbah, Ind., won the right to play in her school’s all-male baseball team after she challenged a state rule that barred girls from playing in the sport if the school also had a softball team. Her lawyers charged that the rule violated Title IX requirements prohibiting gender discrimination. Baudin was a little-league all-star.

Teofila Ochoa and Cirila Pulido–aged 13 and 12 during a 1985 military atrocity in Peru that cost the lives of 69 indigenous peasants, the majority of whom were women and children–were awarded $37 million in compensation from retired army major Telmo Hurtado by a U.S. federal judge in a March 5 ruling. During the incident, Hurtado issued orders to beat the men and rape the women, the Inter Press Service reported. Ochoa and Pulido survived, but many of their relatives were killed.

Pratibha Patil, the first female president of India, greeted International Women’s Day with a call to her sisters to shape their destinies. "Our women folk inspired by Mahatma Gandhi came out of their homes to take part in the freedom struggle," she said. "Beginning with their determined efforts in the days before our freedom, today our women continue to strive to transform the social order into a more just and equal one."

At a European Union conference in Brussels this week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "Justice is thwarted when women are denied the right to play a political role in their nations; disease flourishes and spreads when women’s perspectives are not taken into account in terms of disease prevention. In today’s modern world, no country can achieve lasting success and stability and security if half of its population is sitting on the sidelines."

For more information:

International Women’s Day:

UNIFEM Say No to Violence Campaign:

ActionAid, "Hit or Miss?" report

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Indicators of women’s inequality nonetheless abound.

A March 7 report from British charity ActionAid concluded that U.N. goals to reduce worldwide poverty by 2015 are off-track and cannot be met without a greater focus on women and girls. Moreover, the disproportionate impact of poverty on women is a result of systemic discrimination. African women represent three-quarters of the world’s people infected with the AIDS virus, the report said. Forty-one million girls do not attend school, and two-thirds of the world’s young, illiterate people are female.

Women’s voices have been muffled in international peace efforts, the Inter Press Service reported March 3. Gina Torry of the Working Group on Women told a U.N. commission that women have been absent during peace negotiations and that few have been appointed to positions of authority.

In Iraq, a March 6 study from Women for Women International says women have lost hope there since the March 2003 U.S. invasion. Nearly two-thirds of 1,500 women polled said that violence against them had increased.

In Burundi, Francine Nijimbere fled into hiding after her husband received a presidential pardon. He had cut off her arms because she did not give birth to a son, United Nations news agency IRIN reported Feb. 25. She was pregnant with her second child at the time of the attack and miscarried.

In Bradford, England, city authorities are searching for 33 female teens under 16, whom they believe have been sent abroad and forced to marry, the BBC reported March 6. The national government investigates nearly 300 forced marriage cases each year.

In 2004 Australian women earned 87 cents for every dollar men earned, the Australian reported March 3. Their pay is now 84 cents to the dollar. Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the gap is not solely due to women taking time off to raise families but because they have lower-paying jobs and employers pay them less than men.

Sexual assault on school girls in Latin America is widespread, human rights group Amnesty International reported March 6. The report, "Safe Schools: Every Girl’s Right," found girls being harassed, beaten, sexually assaulted and sometimes forced to be absent from school. Girls reported being raped by teachers and classmates alike.

The Women’s Future Fund of Canada announced March 6 that it is winding down its operations supporting women’s groups across the country due to a lack of money. In 2006 the government ceased funding for the group, which distributed over $200,000 last year to more than 30 workplace-based initiatives.

Shanelle Matthews is a Women’s eNews intern and a recent graduate of the Manship School at Louisiana State University. Dominique Soguel is Arabic editor for Women’s eNews.