In 1893, nearly a quarter of New Zealand women signed a petition seeking women’s suffrage. As a result, subsequent legislation established New Zealand as the first self-governing nation in the world where women gained the same rights as men to vote in general elections.
In 1947, as chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt led the drafting committee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, making major contributions to the overall tone, content and philosophy of the Declaration. This is considered a ‘milestone document’ in history enshrining the rights and freedoms of all human beings.
In the present day during the COVID-19 pandemic, women make up a majority of front-line workers, and have led some of the most efficient and exemplary responses to critical situations. However, according to a UN Women policy brief, there is obviously inadequate representation of women in national and global COVID-19 policy spaces.
Women have made tremendous contributions to the political, economic and cultural development of every society in the world, even when they have borne disproportionate burdens in adverse social conditions. These stories should never be neglected. Instead, to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and gender equality by 2030, it is important to review and explore women’s achievements, the challenges they faced in the past, and those that persist in the present day.
UNESCO’s Memory of the World (MoW) Programme facilitates the preservation, enhances universal access, and increases awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of the world’s documentary heritage, yet full recognition for women’s capabilities and contributions needs more attention. In 2020, UNESCO Bangkok Office published the study Gender Equality Baseline Study of Memory of the World in Asia-Pacific, which reviewed all MoW international and regional inscriptions from the Asia-Pacific region with a gender lens. However, only four items among the total 155 inscriptions were found to highlight gender dimensions or promote empowerment of women in society and history.
The Women in History exhibition contributes to a transformative view of documentary heritage and supports the celebration of International Women’s Day under the theme of Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world. This pays tribute to the intelligence, courage and dedication of women portrayed in documentary heritage, with the goal that HERstories will greatly inspire women and girls to uphold their rights and fully leverage their leadership in the present day. As we all know, empowering women and girls builds healthier and more resilient societies for all.
Fackson Banda, the Chief of Documentary Heritage Unit at UNESCO