My head is spinning with the number of International Women’s Day events in Toronto, Canada.
So many choices but thank goodness the day doesn’t conflict with International Men’s Day!
Wait. We don’t have one of these, do we? Actually, we do. Who knew that November 19th is International Men’s Day around the world! It’s celebrated in over 60 countries and “encourages men to “embrace positive values,” “highlight positive role models” and “raise awareness of men’s well-being.” It’s sanctioned by the United Nations and will mark its 20-year anniversary this year.
Here I was thinking the men didn’t need a worldwide day to celebrate; that “mankind” had that locked down. I’m actually pleased to hear there is a day for men, especially because the emphasis is on health and healthy relationships. It would be unjust to begrudge men their day in the same way that we seem to have developed days and months for any number of ridiculous reasons.
Take, for example, Monday, March 11th. It’s International Napping Day. I won’t be missing out on that one, but I was disappointed to miss International Drink Wine Day on Feb. 18th. I was sadly distracted because it fell on the same day as President’s Day in the U.S. and Family Day in Canada.
While all of these international celebration days seem rather absurd, it is important to consider just how far international “womankind” has come in the fight, the progress, and the attention placed on our accomplishments. Every year, I ask do we really need International Women’s Day (IWD)?
The good news is more than 100 countries celebrate it annually on March 8th. And, thanks to President Barack Obama, American women now have an extra 30 days of celebrating in March as part of Women’s History Month. With a little luck, we’ll elect someone who’ll kick that number to 60 or 90 so we can make it a full-on seasonal holiday out of IWD!
Til then, the focus of IWD will be about achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. In some countries where the number of women suffering from sexual violence, repression, and unfair judicial systems has not improved, the day is about protests and rallies.
Countries like India and Latin America – especially the Honduras and Guatemala – have the highest global rates of femicide (women being murdered). A staggering 60,000 are killed annually in Latin America. This is gut-wrenching, especially given the collective spirit of IWD’s inception.
IWD sprung from socialist roots and organizers like Clara Zetkin and Luise Zietz who created the first 1909 celebration. As members of the Socialist Party of America, they invited women like Charlotte Perkins Gillman to speak at the first National Women’s Day on Feb. 28th in New York. A year later, the party had a women’s conference and decided it should be celebrated internationally every year.
Charlotte Perkins Gillman speaking in New York City, proclaiming: “It is true that a woman’s duty is centered in her home and motherhood but home should mean the whole country and not be confined to three or four rooms of a city or a state.” (Photo credit: Huffington Post)
In a few years, more than a million women jumped on board. Countries like Austria, Germany, and Switzerland joined and by 1917, communist countries like Russia and China followed. The United Nations waited until 1975 to endorse International Women’s Day.
Since then, the media coverage for International Women’s Day (IWD) has steadily climbed, assisted by social media. There is an official IWD website and the hashtag #BalanceforBetter encourages women to share their progress and continue to push for equality.
Heightened attention to IWD, speeches, and organizational celebrations have helped promote conversations. While encouraging, they feel a bit like a flash in the pan. The same is true for commemorative events like Australia’s 20 cent coin on the 100th anniversary of IWD and the annual themes promoted by the United Nations for IWD.
For example, in Egypt and Turkey, women’s rights have fallen as military regimes tighten freedoms and place greater restrictions on civil rights. In Tahrir Square alone, where women once gathered, men are free to harass and chase them away. In 2015, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres commented that women’s rights are being “reduced, restricted and reversed” as men still dominate in leadership positions and the economic gender gap continues to widen.
At the rate we’re going, the World Economic Forum said in 2018 that it would take another 202 years to close the wage gap between men and women because the pace is so slow. In fact, the labor market for women and gender equality has actually stalled. While it’s not all It doom and gloom, it does suggest that we need to be realistic about what’s working and what we’re celebrating.
It’s time to at least look out from behind the party masks. I’m not inspired by the President of India (2016) smiling on International Women’s Day and announcing how “we’ll get to “Planet 50-50 by 2030”. In that speech, he “extend[ed] warm greetings and good wishes to the women of India and thank[ed] them for their contributions over the years in the building of our nation.”
What planet is he living on? Women suffer in an unjust legal system and are tortured in repeated violent gang rapes where men go unprosecuted so excuse me if the words “contributions” and “good wishes” leave a rancid taste.
In more biblical terms, it’s still appropriate to say, “Do not despair.” On the heels of WomanScape’s featured women this week, Amelia Earhart and Jenny Davis, we witness time and again the strength and courage of women in the face of adversity. These women represent the living library of women whose ACTION and TENACITY do not wait for IWD or the United Nations or governments to pass laws or other women to stand with them. While encouraged and welcome, women persevere and succeed because that’s what they do. It’s what they’ve always done.
So as funding for women’s rights groups in poor countries falls and women working in industries continue to struggle for equality in management, women are building greater local community support networks for each other. They are building their own angel investment networks, capital wealth groups, charity collectives and a host of other collaborative initiatives.
#BalanceforBetter may be a UN tag line and “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change” may be the 2019 theme, but every day on WomanScape is IWD. Balance for better means we know who we are – our stories, our needs, and our goals – and we innovate because it’s what we’ve always done to live safe, happy and actualized lives.