March 8 – International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 every year.  The first International Women’s Day occurred in 1911 which meant that last year, 2011, was the 100th anniversary of this annual event.  In honor of this milestone, President Barack Obama proclaimed March to be “Women’s History Month”, calling Americans to mark IWD by reflecting on “the extraordinary accomplishments of women” in shaping the country’s history.

What is International Women’s Day?  It is a global day celebrating the economic, political, and social achievements of women past, present, and future.

Why did an International Women’s Day occur in the early 1900s?  The early 1900s were a time of change for women.  Suffragettes campaigned for women’s right to vote.  International Women’s Day honors the work of the Suffragettes, celebrates women’s success, and reminds everyone of inequities that still to be addressed.  Women in our country finally won the right to vote when the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920.

I hesitated about posting about this event because the original International Women’s Day started as a Socialist political event.  It was initially widely supported by and celebrated mainly in Eastern European and communist countries.  In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women’s Day is a national holiday.  It moved to a more national audience, including in the U.S., as a result of the efforts of the Socialist Party including one that existed in the U.S. in the early 1900s.

It was originally called International Working Women’s Day and has evolved away from being a primarily political event.  In fact, in some countries, it is celebrated more like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day, while in others the United Nations theme of political and human rights is promoted.

IWD has moved beyond its political roots.  In the West, International Women’s Day was first observed as a popular event after 1977 when the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.

“Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures” is the 2012 theme of the internationalwomensday.com website and is widely used by schools, universities, governments, women’s groups and the private sector.  Each year the United Nations declares an overall International Women’s Day theme.  This year it is “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty”.  Many countries and organizations develop their own themes that are more locally relevant.  For example, the European Parliament’s 2012 theme is “Equal pay for work of equal value”.

But, the day is not without controversy.  International Women’s Day sparked violence in Tehran, Iran on March 4, 2007, when police beat hundreds of men and women who were planning a rally.  Police arrested dozens of women and some were released after several days of solitary confinement and interrogation.

In the year 2012 and after more than 100 years, you would not think we need to continue the fight for women’s rights.  It’s amazing to me that women in many countries, including our own, continue to fight for equal pay and treatment at work.  In a recent case, UPS denied a pregnant women a transfer to a light duty assignment accorded to other workers and was put on unpaid leave with no benefits.

Women (and children and the elderly) are particularly at risk in war torn countries.  Not only do they suffer economically, but they suffer physically as victims of violence and rape.

Sex trafficking continues to exploit millions of women and young girls.  Here are those gruesome statistics :

  • Sex trafficking is 90% women and girls.
  • Over 50,000 women are trafficked into the United States every year.
  • Asian women are sold to North American brothels for $16,000 each.
  • 2 million children are forced into prostitution every year.  Half of them live in Asia.

And, while we think that women are more at risk in other, poorer, Third World type of countries, we know from recent experience that women’s rights are also under attack in our country.  Recently, we learned that there are over 19,000 sexual assaults a year against women in the military.  A young law student, advocating for reproductive rights, was personally attacked and accused of being a slut and a prostitute and told to post sex videos by a national radio talk show host.

Thirty one people (men and women) who were peacefully demonstrating at the Virginia State Capitol were arrested in an unusual show of force while protesting a proposed law requiring transvaginal ultrasounds be performed prior to abortions.  A similar law was recently passed in the State of Texas.  I’ve had a transvaginal ultrasound.  Basically an 8-inch “probe” (yes, it is phallic shaped) is inserted into your vagina while you lay prone with your legs spread-eagled and it is manually moved around.  My procedure lasted about 20 grueling minutes while people walked into and out of the room.  (For the record, I was pregnant but lost this baby and not as a result of an abortion.  I would be hard pressed to ever allow this procedure be done on me again.)

The World Health Organization and most laws define rape as “physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration – even if slight – of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object”.  Whatever your views on abortion, this procedure amounts to Government sponsored rape.

Women were refused the opportunity to testify for their rights to manage their own reproductive health care in the current controversy over access to birth control through employer sponsored health care plans.  While I understand and support a reasonable compromise to allow religious organizations some exemptions, it seems that we are on an all or nothing path.

There seems to be no middle ground.  No ability to compromise or accept that we are a diverse country with diverse views.

That is why, ultimately, I decided to promote International Women’s Day with a post on my blog.  We have five daughters.  They and all women and men deserve to live in a world where they are valued and treated with fairness and equality.  I fought for equal rights for myself, and I am proud to call myself a feminist.

Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.
Maya Angelou

Information for this post came from various sources including www.internationalwomensday.org, Wikipedia, The Protection Project, and Human Rights Watch.

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