What is International Women's Day?
From 1909-1913, women of the Socialist Party of America began observing National Women’s Day at the end of February each year. In 1910, at the International Conference of Working Women, Clara Zetkin of Germany proposed the idea of an International Women’s Day (IWD) to be celebrated in all countries on the same day each year. Over 100 women from 17 countries, mostly those involved in the labor rights movement, unanimously approved the proposal launching the now 103 year old tradition.
The United Nations started observing IWD in 1975, going so far as to mark the day as a UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace in 1977.
How is IWD being commemorated this year?
This year, there are over 1000 events worldwide to honor International Women’s Day. The holiday is official in numerous countries, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Uganda, and Vietnam. In some countries the holiday is observed by only women getting the day off of work.
What follows is part of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s message commemorating International Women’s Day today:
As we commemorate International Women’s Day, we must look back on a year of shocking crimes of violence against women and girls and ask ourselves how to usher in a better future… Look around at the women you are with. Think of those you cherish in your families and your communities. And understand that there is a statistical likelihood that many of them have suffered violence in their lifetime. Even more have comforted a sister or friend, sharing their grief and anger following an attack. This year on International Women’s Day, we convert our outrage into action. We declare that we will prosecute crimes against women – and never allow women to be subjected to punishments for the abuses they have suffered. We renew our pledge to combat this global health menace wherever it may lurk – in homes and businesses, in war zones and placid countries, and in the minds of people who allow violence to continue.
Yesterday, on March 7, 2013, President Obama signed back into law the inclusive Violence Against Women Act, making it clear that the violence against all women, including women who are sexual minorities and Native American women in the United States, must be stopped and that all women have a right to be protected from sexual violence, intimate partner and domestic violence, and any other forms of violence against them.
Happy, Sad, Emotional…and Action-Oriented
I mark this day with both positive feelings and an ongoing sadness. I am genuinely happy to know that I live in a place where there are laws that are meant to protect me from harm, and where there are laws meant to guarantee that I earn what men earn and laws that are meant to prevent any discrimination against me due to my gender. However, I am saddened by the reality that many of the laws both in the United States and throughout the world, including international conventions and agreements meant to protect the rights of women and girls, are not in actuality enforced or respected. You only have to read my last blog post on the state of violence against women to understand what I mean by this. Today I think about our reality and I celebrate the achievements of women internationally while not losing sight of the fact that there are many challenges yet to be tackled, many struggles we have yet to overcome, and many women who continue to suffer atrocities committed against them simply because they are women.
I urge you to take action today and here are some ways:
• Write an op-ed or letter to the editor urging your newspaper to cover more stories about violence and discrimination against women and urging them to include more women’s voices in their news.
• Sign letters to your Senators or Representatives to urge the U.S. to ratify the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Click here to sign a letter from NCJW and send it directly to your Senators.
• Get involved with an organization that is advocating for the rights of women, whether it’s National Council of Jewish Women, National Organization for Women, Emily’s List, the League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood, Women’s Refugee Commission, or any of the countless others.
Like the women who convened 100 years ago from all over the world to discuss, engage, and work together to pressure their respective governments to do something about the inequalities they faced as women year after year, we too can create change. If you’re involved with advocacy for women of any nature, I would love to hear about it. Leave a comment and let us all know what you’re working on and how others can help out or get involved.
If you’re interested in gaining skills to be an effective advocate for women’s rights, join NCJW/LA, Planned Parenthood LA, the League of Women Voters, and the City of West Hollywood for 5 training workshops. Info on the Women’s Action Training Project can be found at www.jwcsc.org/events.