U.S. first lady Michelle Obama poses with young female students in front of the White House before an event to mark International Women's Day, as part of the first lady's Let Girls Learn initiative, in Washington, D.C., March 8, 2016.
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama poses with young female students in front of the White House before an event to mark International Women's Day, as part of the first lady's Let Girls Learn initiative, in Washington, D.C., March 8, 2016.

People around the world held events Tuesday to mark International Women's Day, a day to mark the achievements of women as well as the continuing struggle for gender equality.

World leaders praised the contributions of women and urged greater inclusiveness.

"Today, on International Women’s Day, we recommit ourselves to achieving a world in which every woman and girl enjoys the full range of rights and freedoms that is her birthright," President Barack Obama said in a statement Tuesday.

"We know that when we invest in women and girls, we are not only helping them, we are helping the entire planet. A future in which all women and girls around the world are allowed to rise and achieve their full potential will be a brighter, more peaceful, and more prosperous future for us all," Obama said.

He also said Secretary of State John Kerry would soon announce a program, the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, which would provide the next generation of women the tools they need to pursue their aspirations.

"From human rights to human security, women have made our world a better place," Kerry said in a statement Tuesday.

"We remember the extraordinary achievements of women throughout history, and we applaud the women of today who lead, inspire, and work to improve their communities, seek solutions to conflict, cure disease, and build peaceful and prosperous societies," he said. "We pledge to young girls that equal opportunities for success will not be limited by gender."

PHOTO GALLERY: International Women's Day events

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U.N. General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon said he has fought for the empowerment of women during his nine years as head of the international group.

"For more than nine years, I have put this philosophy into practice at the United Nations. We have shattered so many glass ceilings we created a carpet of shards. Now we are sweeping away the assumptions and bias of the past so women can advance across new frontiers," Ban said in a statement.

"I remain outraged by the denial of rights to women and girls – but I take heart from the people everywhere who act on the secure knowledge that women’s empowerment leads to society’s advancement," he said.

Worldwide events

Women, and men, in countries such as Georgia, the Philippines, Britain, China, India, Bangladesh, the Netherlands and the U.S. took part in marches, rallies, concerts and panel discussions.

But for the women refugees waiting at a Greek border camp, Tuesday found them living in squalor for yet another day.

More than 1 million refugees and migrants have fled conflict-torn areas such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Tuesday that 138,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in southern Europe so far this year.

FILE - Filippo Grandi, left, the U.N. High Commiss
FILE - Filippo Grandi, left, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, speaks with a Syrian family at a camp in Saadnayel, in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon, Jan. 22, 2016. Grandi said nearly two-thirds of refugees are women and children.

"In public opinion, the image is often that of young single men arriving in Europe to look for work. Today, on International Women's Day, I wish to report instead that nearly two-thirds are women and children, up from last year's 41 percent," Grandi said.

Migrants in misery

For Rafa, 21, who traveled from war torn Syria with a group of female relatives to find herself sleeping rough in the muddy fields, there was little to celebrate on Tuesday as the border gate toward a more promising future in western Europe remained shut.

"Open the border, please, open door, please, we want to be safe, we want to be safe, open the border, please. We have children. ... We don't know what we should do. We run away from the war," Rafa said.

Despite the weather taking a turn for the worse Monday and a declaration by EU leaders that the Balkans route was now "shut," thousands of desperate people continued to line up at Greece's northern border and refused to leave the makeshift camp and seek shelter at the hospitality centers set up in the wider region by Greek authorities.

The appalling conditions at the open-air camp have caused many of the migrant children and women, the camp's most vulnerable residents, to fall ill.

'Sexual exploitation and trafficking'

Grandi said more than 35,000 refugees and migrants are stranded in Greece, having been denied access to Macedonia. "This has had a direct impact on women and girls, who are suffering disproportionately and are at great risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking."

One of the few water taps at the Idomeni refugee c
FILE - One of the few water taps at the Idomeni refugee camp in Greece, for more than 13,000 refugees. (Jamie Dettmer for VOA)

Elsewhere, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday he believed that "a woman is above all else a mother," during a speech to an audience of women in Ankara.

“I know there will be some who will be annoyed, but for me a woman is above all a mother," Erdogan said.

Critics have accused his government of trying to impose strict Islamic values on Turkey and curtailing women's civil liberties, while the president has come under fire for urging Turkish women to have at least three children.

On Sunday, Turkish police fired rubber bullets to disperse a crowd of hundreds of people trying to mark International Women's Day in central Istanbul. The event had been banned out of security concerns, a local official said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also congratulated his countrywomen, saying, it was "the woman, her dignity and mercy, that reveals the real Russian soul."

Women bring "beauty, light and hope to this world. We are proud of you and we love you," he said during an address carried by Russian state broadcaster RU-RTR.

FILE - Activists hold pictures of slain environmen
Activists hold pictures of slain environmental rights activist Berta Caceres during a protest to mark International Women's Day outside the presidential house in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 8, 2016.

In Britain, an online survey of 1,600 women found two-thirds of them have been sexually harassed in public places and more than one-third have experienced unwanted sexual touching.

The survey by the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), released on the day that is meant to focus on women’s issues, found for women aged 18 to 25 the abuse is even more common, with 85 percent reporting unwanted sexual attention and almost half undergoing unwanted sexual touching.

"Sexual harassment is an everyday experience which women and girls learn to deal with, but it's time to hold a mirror up to it and challenge it," EVAW acting director Sarah Green said in a statement. "Women should be free to live their lives without the threat of harassment and violence, not having to plan and limit their choices to make sure they're safe."

In India, hundreds of women from varying religions on Tuesday staged a protest in Mumbai, demanding equal access to places of worship. They also questioned the conservative country's patriarchal mindset. The rally came a day after dozens of women activists were detained by police in the western city of Nashik as they tried to enter a Hindu shrine where entry of females is prohibited.

Some material for this report came from AP, AFP and Reuters.