International Women's Day: This Wednesday, the world came together to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day has been observed since the early 1900's-starting as National Woman's Day in the US in 1909. The day eventually became International Women's Day when Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland collectively honored it in 1911, which gained quick attention after the "Triangle fire" accident in New York a week later killed 140 working, immigrant women. This year's campaign theme was Pledging for Parity, calling to mind the issue of slowing gender parity around the world in recent years.
The United Nations' theme for the day was Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality, an initiative meant to bring attention to the challenges that hold back women from reaching their full potential. As of February 2016, pledges have been made by over 90 governments to overcome gender equality gaps, which have so far culminated in the Global Leader's Meeting on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment held in China in September 2015.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) observed the day by bringing attention to women working in humanitarian aid, as well as to the issue of living with sexual assault. Acknowledging that women make up the forefront of their work, the ICRC shared the stories of Marie-Claire Feghali, Tatiana Florez, and Graziella Leite Piccoli - three women who have worked in hostile environments to help others. Their stories can be found here. The ICRC also shared the story of Pascaline, a woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo who shared her experience of being a rape victim and showing strength in the face of stigmatization and rejection from her local community, an all-too-common narrative around the world. Her story can be found here.
Balkan Migrant Route: Tensions within the Balkan peninsula intensified as the bottlenecks created by countries closing their borders continue. Following last week's closure by Macedonia, Slovenia announced on Tuesday it would require valid visas for entry, prompting Serbia and Croatia to follow suit. This has created new pockets of stranded migrants throughout the peninsula who are barred from advancing, as an estimated 1,300 more migrants arrive to Greece each day.
One such bottleneck is occurring near the Macedonian town of Tabonovce, on the border with Serbia. Serbia's recent announcement has meant that more than 430 migrants are trapped in a muddy no-man's land between the two countries, as they are unwilling to retract back to Macedonia and are barred from entering Serbia. Much like the camp in the Greek town of Idomeni, this makeshift settlement is without much access to needed aid, and many are left vulnerable to the rain and cold temperatures. European leaders have spoken out against the difficulties created by the new closures, such as Chancellor Angela Merkel, who warned that the new closings "do not resolve the problem".
The situation has been further made difficult by Hungary, which declared a national state of emergency due to "mass migration", which allows it to send its army to border regions and increase infrastructure along the borders. Turkey's EU minister also announced yesterday that it will not take back migrants already on Greek islands, in contrast to a previous statement that it would take back all undocumented migrants that do not find settlement in Europe.
Japan: This week marks five years since the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, with the unfortunate truth that thousands of displaced families and elderly remain unable to return home and are in need of aid, some of which is being provided by the Red Cross. Over 16,000 were killed in the disaster and 470,000 were displaced from their homes, with many living in temporary housing since. The situation is worsened by the remaining radioactive contamination left over from the Daiichi plant damaged during the disaster, preventing 100,000+ returning to the city of Fukushima.
The Japanese Red Cross has been providing endless support over the last five years, including provision of aid as well as construction of new homes and hospitals. The IFRC has also assisted the Japanese Red Cross in setting up the Nuclear Disaster Resource Centre to help prepare for any future such catastrophes.