The roots of International Women’s Day began with the early labor movements in the United States and Europe, when women marched and advocated for higher wages and the right to vote at the turn of the 20th century. But International Women’s Day wasn’t officially celebrated on March 8 until Russian women launched a wartime strike on that date in 1917. Those women demanded “bread and peace”—an end to World War I, the rationing of food, and even the Tsarist regime itself. One week later, as the movement grew in power, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated his throne, ending more than three centuries of Romanov rule, and Russian women were given the right to vote. They did not end the war, but they shook the world.
This year’s International Women’s Day occurs in the shadow of another war. Vladimir Putin’s brutal, unprovoked, and unjustified invasion of Ukraine has led to thousands of casualties and the fastest flight of refugees in Europe since World War II—more than two million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began, the vast majority of them women and children.
For three decades, USAID has invested in Ukraine’s women—from the advocates and organizers who took to the Maidan and helped fuel the Revolution of Dignity to the government reformers and anti-corruption activists who were instrumental in building a new, prosperous, independent future for the country. Today, as many of them seek refuge across borders while others help organize the resistance within the country, we continue to stand with Ukraine’s women.
Indeed, we stand with women and girls everywhere striving to create a better world and are committed to doing more to support them. I am pleased to share that today President Biden will issue a $2.6 billion budget request to advance gender equity and equality worldwide. This request would represent USAID and the Department of State’s largest-ever investment in gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
These investments come at a crucial time. In addition to the hardship women are currently facing in Ukraine, they are also disproportionately experiencing job losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, bearing the brunt of the effects of climate change, and suffering from a “shadow pandemic” of gender- based violence. And we know that investing in gender equality strengthens democracy, promotes economic growth, advances political stability, and contributes to lasting development progress. Unlocking the full potential of the world’s women and girls and breaking down the systemic barriers that limit their full participation in society is not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do.
Through this historic investment, we will be able to help millions more girls get the education they need to pursue their dreams. We will make crucial progress in creating a world free of gender-based violence. We will help more women around the world get good jobs and advance in the workforce, reaping dividends not just for themselves but for their families and their societies. And we’ll do more to promote the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex people, so that everyone can live without fear no matter who they are or whom they love.
On this International Women’s Day, as we witness women and children wait days in the bitter cold to cross Ukraine’s borders with little more than they can carry, as we see courageous Russian women—from elderly grandmothers to girls as young as seven—arrested and detained for protesting Putin’s war, let us remember how crucial it is to invest in them and how much power they have to shake our world.