March 8 marks the 110 year anniversary of International Women’s Day. The day is an enduring tradition originating from a proposal from Clara Zetkin at the second International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen in 1910. Her proposal, every year in every country there should be a celebration of women and focus on women’s issues, was met with unanimous support from the over a hundred women from 17 countries attending the conference.
After the approval, the first iteration of International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 19 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. Over 60 years later International Women’s Day was honored by the United Nations in 1975 and today it is celebrated by over 80 countries around the world!
In some countries International Women’s Day is celebrated with small gifts and it is a official holiday in several countries like Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia as well.
From the International Women’s Day website this year's theme #ChoosetoChallenge is based on “choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.”
Focuses of this year's theme are supporting women in technology, women in sports, women’s health, women at work, women creatives and general women empowerment.
Women in Technology
Women are historically underrepresented in STEM fields. The HCL Wave Maker Awards are one organization trying to recognize the women who have blazed a path in these fields to create a more equitable society.
Njideka Harry is the president and CEO of Youth for Technology Foundation. Its mission is to create “enriched learning opportunities where the appropriate use of technology affords opportunities for marginalized women.” She was recently awarded the Wave Maker Award from HCL Technologies in 2020 for her continued investment in technology to enable youth and women in developing countries.
Women in Sports
Women in sports often focus on the athletes, but equally as important are the women behind the scenes. The women who are participating in board meetings and part of upper level coaching staff in both women and men’s sports. One Premier League Soccer club, West Ham United Football Club was awarded the Premier Leagues Equality Standard Advanced Level for its commitment to equality and inclusion.
West Ham United has been an outspoken and active supporter of International Women’s Day. A few examples of the engaged role the club has played to create a diverse and inclusive community has been introducing a mentor program with the goal of equipping participants with the necessary tools to perform at their highest capability in a culture that sees mentorship as an effective form of development. Mentors, from all genders, will mentor the Club's women at all levels.”
Not only that but West Ham has been focused on increasing the amount of women as part of its payroll. Actively searching for a female coach to be apart of its Premier League’s Coach Inclusion & Diversity Scheme (CIDS) and establishing a Staff Equality Forum of 14 employees with a third of whom are women and over half are from minority backgrounds.
Ophelia Dahl co-founded non-profit organization Partners in Health in 1987 to provide healthcare to individuals who couldn’t otherwise access it. One of the countries Partners in Health is investing in is Sierra Leone which has a high maternal mortality rate with the risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth is 1 in 20. While poverty is a significant factor in being unable to access care, the country also faces a shortage of trained medical personnel, health infrastructure, and medical supplies. In response, Partners in Health has invested time and resources to end maternal mortality in Sierra Leonne successfully leading to a 50% reduction in stillbirth rate at Koidu Government Hospital, 99.9% monthly average rate of HIV+ patients returning for care, and a 52% increase in mothers receiving care at a partner in Health supported facility. They aren't stopping there with a plan to break ground for the Maternal Center of Excellence in 2021 to continue helping women and children in the country.
There is plenty of work to do in Sierra Leone and here in the United States, but organizations like Partners in Health are starting to turn the tide against maternal mortality and other women health issues.
Women at Work
Women have made progress from leaps and bounds since the days of Rosie the Riveter, in spite of that women accounted for 100% of the 140,000 net job losses in December while men gained 16,000 jobs. December also saw 154,000 Black women dropping out of the labor force. Overall, in the U.S. women lost a net 5.4 million jobs compared to about 4.4 million job losses for men during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Even so there are still positive signs that women are making progress in the workforce. A record number of women are serving in the House of Representatives and the Senate with 27% of seats held by women. This is up 50% from the 112th congress a decade ago.
The corporate world is moving slower, but still progress is evident. 5% or 26 women are serving as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. In 1995 there were zero. In 2013, 17% of board members of Fortune 500 companies were women. Furthermore, 52.2% of over managerial and professional occupations in the U.S. were occupied by women. However, women still lagged behind their male counterparts in senior management positions.
Art is one of the uniting pieces of the international community, and international women’s day is no exception. Several poets came together to share their accepting the #ChoosetheChallenge message such as Amina Rahman, Shiyen Lee Chi and plenty more.
Literature saw the launch of 'Reclaim her Name' an initiative started by Diageo brand Baileys, in collaboration with The Women's Prize for Fiction seeking to republish 25 books originally published under male pseudonyms with female authors true names. Books in this collection include "Middlemarch" by Mary Ann Evans originally under George Eliot and "A Phantom Lover" by Violet Paget originally under Vernon Lee.
The Prize for Fiction is one of the UK’s most prestigious annual book award taking time to honor fiction written by women.
Women in the Central Valley
Internal Women's Day is about the slogan “think globally, act locally.” There are plenty of small actions to take March 8 to support the women in your community. Patron a small women owned business like Casa de Tamales or Namikaze. Buy local female artists work, especially once events like Art Hop resume. Attend a seminar on the International Women’s Day website or through quick google search. Easier than that is to donate to causes that further the goal of gender parity.
There are plenty of opportunities for every person to create a more inclusive world March 8, National Women’s History Month, and beyond.