March 9, 2020
Yesterday brought a small but welcome respite from the voluminous reports on everything COVID-19. Since 1913, International Women’s Day has been celebrated on March 8th as a day to recognize the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, raise awareness against bias, and encourage action to improve gender equality.
International Women’s Day is celebrated in various ways around the globe. In Italy, yellow flowers called “mimosas” are given to women in appreciation of their strength and determination. In China, since 2014, women have been entitled to a half-day off work. In Berlin, where it is a national holiday, all receive a full-day off. In February of 1980 Jimmy Carter declared March to be Women’s History Month in the United States. Each year a proclamation, honoring the achievements of American women, is posted by the president. Here is a link to this year’s posting – https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-womens-history-month-2020/.
The first National Women’s Day was on February 28th, 1909, when women focused on shorter work hours, better pay, and voting rights marched the streets of New York City to bring visibility to their cause. On March 19, 1911 the day became international, when more than one million people attended rallies held in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland to promote woman’s suffrage. By the second world war countries from all continents had begun celebrating the 8th of March to advocate for women’s equality.
In 1975, the United Nations began sponsoring the celebration and choosing an annual theme. The 2020 theme for International Women’s Day is I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights. It is the 10th anniversary of the formation of UN Women, which helps UN Member States focus on four strategic priorities: women need economic autonomy; to live free from all forms of violence; to participate equally in their governance systems; and to have a greater voice in building more sustainable and peaceful societies for all.
In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women produced what is thought of as the most progressive agenda for women’s empowerment, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The action identifies 12 major areas of risk that threaten the human rights of girls and women, including unequal access to education and training and inequality in economic structures and policies. Over the last 25 years there have been measurable improvements in many countries. For example, a 2019 UNICEF report highlighted a 38% decline in maternal mortality rates between 2000 – 2017 and more girls’ with access to primary education. The work, however, is far from over. Violence at voting polls, child marriage, and policies that restrict access to public education and health care are just some of the many problems girls and women continue to face today.
During this Women’s History Month let us all pay tribute to the strength of women globally, or those in our own lives, who continue to forge pathways of change, and enrich the world around us.