Yesterday was World Book Day. For various reasons which I won’t bore you with, I managed not to realise this until the evening, by which time it was a bit late to blog about it/post #shelfie pictures on Twitter along with the rest of the reading and writing community.
But it set me thinking. One of the commissioning editors for whom I write a lot often commissions articles about World/International Days, and the range of topics I’ve researched and written about over the past few years is amazing. I thought I would share a few of them with you.
International Women’s Day (Sun 8 March 2020)
This day has been around for a long while – it was first marked in 1911, and initially focussed on women’s right to work without discrimination. Inevitably, it soon also started to campaign for women’s right to vote. Following the day’s adoption by the feminist movement in the 1960s, the United Nations declared it an International Day in the 1970s. It continues to raise awareness of issues affecting women around the world, which we might have hoped would have been addressed by now: inequality and discrimination, the impact of war and displacement, sexual violence, and the lack of access to education.
World Day Against Child Labour (Fri 12 June 2020)
A more recent development is World Day Against Child Labour, which started in 2002. Its focus is the global extent of child labour, and the campaign to eliminate it. The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals include a global commitment to end “child labour in all its forms” by 2025, but currently over 200 million children around the world work, many full-time. This matters, not only because it deprives them of the chance to be children and to play, but because it means that they are denied the opportunity to go to school, and traps them in a cycle of poverty. In the West we probably think of child labour in terms of having a paper round, or being a child actor, with legal protections in place. Worldwide, however, 70% or working children work in agriculture, often hard and dangerous work.
World Bee Day (Wed 20 May 2020)
With so much publicity for the pollinator crisis over the past few years, we can’t fail to be aware that there’s so much more to bees than honey. Until I began researching for this article, though, I hadn’t appreciated that as much as a third of world food production depends on bees for pollination. This makes it very worrying that 10% of bee species worldwide are facing extinction. Although there is dispute about what is causing the decline in bees, with possible culprits being the varroa mite, other viruses, diseases and pests, climate change, and neonicotinoid pesticides, the statistics suggest that bee numbers are down by a third in the USA, with significant losses being reported elsewhere including Europe.
It’s not all doom and gloom though – this is one area of environmental crisis where ordinary people like you and I can make a difference. Bee-friendly gardening, providing bees with flowers which yield plentiful and easily-accessed nectar, can help to boost the health and numbers of these essential creatures, whose future survival is so closely entwined with our own.
World Braille Day (Mon 4 January 2021)
On this day in 1809, Louis Braille was born in France. He was blinded by a childhood accident, but applied his intellect to the problems he faced, and by the age of 15 had created a system for reading and writing. A system of military night-writing had been developed by Charles Barbier, at Napoleon’s request, to provide a tactile way for soldiers to communicate silently and without a light source. It consisted of sets of dots which encoded sound. Louis adapted this into a matrix of ‘cells’ of raised dots, 3 high by 2 wide, which can be used to read (and, with the right equipment, to write) in any language.
World Braille Day was declared by the United Nations to celebrate the system’s role in giving independence to people who are blind and visually impaired, and to encourage its use. Sadly, there is a world shortage of trained Braille teachers, and Braille writing equipment is expensive. Some years ago I was able to get funding to produce a Braille version of an adult education programme I had developed, but was saddened that so many users said this was the first time they had been able to take part in learning on an equal basis with their sighted colleagues. I found that public bodies and businesses rarely use Braille to make their premises and services independently accessible to blind and partially sighted users – often the only place you will encounter Braille is on the buttons in the lift.
World Toilet Day (Tues 19 November 2020)
This day is particularly dear to my heart – having had IBS for 30 years, I have a personal interest in the provision of toilet facilities, and am the proud owner of a RADAR key which has come to my rescue many times. I know how lucky I am to live in a country where flush toilets are the norm, widely available, and safe.
However, despite the United Nations declaring in 2010 that access to sanitation and water is a human right, over a third of the world’s population still doesn’t have access to a safe toilet. Over a billion have no toilet at all. Amazingly, more people own a mobile phone than have access to a toilet.
This lack of safe toilets has enormous implications worldwide. Firstly, there are the health implications, with diseases such a cholera and dysentery being spread because of inadequate sanitation, and untreated sewage contaminating the environment and the food chain. Secondly, one fifth of schools have no toilet facilities, effectively preventing girls from attending once they start menstruating. And thirdly, women who have no alternative but to engage in ‘open defecation’, especially after dark, are vulnerable to attack and rape. World Toilet Day seeks to address a subject which can be taboo or socially unacceptable, but which is really about basic human rights.
A number of organisations are involved in providing toilets where they are most needed. One which I have supported is WaterAid – see https://www.wateraid.org/uk/the-crisis/toilets for more details.