Today hundreds of millions of women and men will celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). The theme for IWD 2013 is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.”

The sad reality today is that 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not a crime and the most dangerous place for a woman is her own home.

Climate impacts also affect women and children first. Women are more likely to die in natural disasters than men and they are mostly affected by food crises, as the majority of the world’s small-scale farmers are women. Climate change is increasingly creating droughts, floods and heavy rains; agriculture is becoming more and more challenging in numerous parts of the world.

Mother and Child in Indonesia.40 year-old Ma'ani with her 6 month-old baby Anfi Setyawan Adi Putra in front of their house which is covered with thick cloth to protect it from coal dust from a nearby coal power plant in Cilacap Central Java. 12/25/2012 © Kemal Jufri / Greenpeace

If we looked at the deeper theme, we would see that even in the most liberal countries around the world, despite so many years of gender equality activism, we still have a bad balance sheet. Women continue to be underrepresented in politics, business and even civil society.  

Yet, women, have courageously stood up for their rights in many parts of the world and the sheer act of survival in the face of adversity and violence on a day to day basis should be a source of inspiration driving us all into actively supporting the unfinished agenda of securing full gender equality globally.

Today we should take time to celebrate what the women’s movement has achieved but also rededicate ourselves to the huge challenges that still remain. It is critically important that men realise that they must be part of the struggle for gender equality.   I fully recognize that it is important that men speak out against violence on women and speak in favour of gender equality.

The struggle for environmental justice is fundamentally linked to the struggle for gender justice.  It is for this reason, I have responded positively to the invitation from the head of UN Women, Michel Bachelet, the former president of Chile, to serve on the advisory board of UN Women.  I also responded positively to the UN Secretary General when he recently invited me to serve on the Men Engage Network which seeks to make men part of the solution.   While it is an honour and privilege to be asked to contribute in this manner, this comes with much responsibility.   

My appeal on this year’s IWD is that we all speak up against violence against women

But also that we take a moment to celebrate and draw inspiration from the amazing women in civil society, who take risks, put their lives on the line sometimes on a daily basis and for their intellectual contributions to thinking about what Future We Want and so much more. 

The journey to embrace gender equality activism for men can follow many routes.  On this day, I would like to thank my late mother who shaped my thinking and life, to my two grandmothers who taught me so much about the world even though they were both illiterate and innumerate; to all the women whom I have had the privilege of working with or volunteering with in various civil society organisations in Africa and globally. 

Today is your today.  Lets work now to make every day women’s day: where we work for justice, peace, sustainability and equality.

Kumi Naidoo is the Executive Director at Greenpeace International.