In Kigali she wakes up
She makes a choice
In Hanoi, Natal, Ramallah.
In Tangier she takes a breath,
Lifts up her voice
In Lahore, La Paz, Kampala.
Though she’s half a world away
Something in me wants to say
We are one woman, you cry and I hear you
We are one woman, you hurt and I hurt too
We are one woman, your hopes are mine
And we shall shine
– from One Woman, a song presented by UNWomen, 2013
It’s been over a week since the commeration of this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March.
It was first celebrated in the early 1900s, and depending on your viewpoint or sense of history, it was either first officially celebrated in 1911 in western and central Europe or 1917 in Czarist Russia. In between these two years, in 1913 it was decided that IWD would be celebrated on 8 March according to the Gregorian calendar, which our modern, mainstream calendar is based on. The impetus for this was brought on by women representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and parliamentarians.
Perhaps it was no coincidence that 8 March was the date in Russia (or 23 February in the Julian calendar then used in that country) in 1917 when women began a strike in response to the death of over two million Russian soldiers killed during the course of the First World War, which was at the time still raging. Their strike helped to bring down the Czar’s rule, leading to a new government that eventually withdrew Russia from the conflict.
Although Russia became the nucleus of the Soviet empire, it did not stop its leaders from instituting – at the urging of the Communist revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai – the day as an official holiday within the Soviet Union.
Fast forward to 1977, when the United Nations General Assembly “invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace”. International Women’s Day has come a long way from its socialist roots and when it was almost exclusively commemorated by Communist states.
Now in 2013, the UN’s theme for this year’s IWD is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. This involves women’s roles in building peace, advocating rights, and providing security, and much work remains to be done.
We have heard that women’s rights are also human rights. Not only is this true, women’s rights have also enriched the spectrum of human rights development and practices across the world. Rights ascribed as inherent to women as human beings teach us how to embrace our dignity – for every man, woman, and child.
Rachel Zeng has made the further point that a change in perceiving gender is necessary in these times, pointing to unfair expectations of men and some of their related and adverse effects on women. There is a lot more to be done and the fight for social justice and human rights thus continue.
Finally, it would not be possible for me to list the contributions that women as mothers, sisters, daughters, partners, friends, caregivers, educators, scientists, social workers, human rights activists, peacekeeping troops, and even political leaders, known or unknown, have made to the betterment not just of women, but of human society as a whole.
So I shall not even try. For this, I can only offer this – Thank You.
Happy (belated) International Women’s Day.
Your victories lift us – and lift us all – up.
International Women’s Day 2013 website