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International Women's Day: Is the pace of progress slowing?

Path to progress

Despite reaching many milestones over the past year, women face a host of challenges around the world and an even more distant estimate for when gender equality will be achieved.

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    Demonstrators march in protest against the Turkish government and violence against women in Ankara on Sunday. The banner reads, "We are resisting for life, peace, labor, and freedom!"
    Burhan Ozbilici/AP
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Air India Flight 173 flew from New Delhi to San Francisco Sunday in what the airline says was the longest flight in history with an all-female crew.

In China, the country’s first law against domestic violence took effect this month after a more than two-decade push by women's rights activists and advocacy groups.

And in the United States, the military has begun to recruit women for combat jobs, including as Navy SEALs, and could see them serving in previously male-only Army and Marine Corps infantry units by this fall.

The world has much to celebrate Tuesday on the 108th annual International Women's Day. But despite the wide range of feminist milestones achieved over the past year, progress toward gender equality has slowed in many places.

“In poor parts of the world today, women still risk death in the process of giving life,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement focusing on the many problems that still must be overcome. "Maternal mortality is one of many preventable perils. All too often, female babies are subjected to genital mutilation. Girls are attacked on their way to school. Women’s bodies are used as battlefields in wars. Widows are shunned and impoverished.”

“We can only address these problems by empowering women as agents of change,” he added.

The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then, in the past year, it estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn't close entirely until 2133

An open letter released Sunday and signed by a number of high-profile entertainers – including Oprah Winfrey and Meryl Streep – highlighted how far women still have to go.

In calling on world leaders to fight for gender equality, the letter states that some 62 million girls around the globe are denied the right to education, 500 million women can't read, and 155 countries have laws that discriminate against women.

"Nowhere on earth do women have as many opportunities as men. Nowhere," the letter said. "The fight for gender equality is global."

At the grassroots level, rallies in Warsaw and Istanbul on Sunday drew attention to the many challenges women face.

In Poland’s sprawling capital, hundreds of women marched in the rain to demand greater access to abortions, better working conditions, and more government-sponsored child support, the Associated Press reported. Marchers carried banners that called for higher pay for women and for the state to open more nurseries and preschools.

The annual march in Warsaw went without a hitch. But a similar rally in Istanbul ended violently when Turkish police fired rubber bullets into a crowd of hundreds of people and detained at least one woman, Reuters reported.

The demonstrators had ignored a ban on the march by the Istanbul governor, who scrapped this year's rally citing security concerns. They were seeking to draw attention to women's issues in Turkey, which ranks 130th out of 145 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap Index. (Poland ranks 51st.) Turkey’s government often faces criticism for low levels of female participation in the workforce and its failure to curb high rates of domestic violence.

“You see the power of women,” protester Guris Ozen told Reuters before the crackdown. “We are here despite every obstacle and we will continue to fight for our cause.”

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