International Women’s Day has been celebrated since the early 1900’s. It originated amid the critical debate that was beginning to occur among women at that time. Oppression and inequality spurred women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.
Now, a hundred years later, we have witnessed a significant change and a shift of attitudes in society’s appreciation and view of women’s equality and emancipation. However the unfortunate fact remains that women are not paid equally compared to their male counterparts, women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s level of education and health is far poorer. Women experience far more and a greater severity of violence as compared to the male population.
Since those early years, great improvements have been made. We have women astronauts and Prime Ministers. Young women are welcomed into universities and are not faced with choosing family or career. Now they can have both. Most women have real choices. Now, the question is – should we settle for most women?
Not if you ask Lisa Marie Alatorre, Lead Organizer for the Human Rights Work Group at Coalition on Homelessness. She was born mixed race (half Mexican, half white) and explains, how her mother worked hard to challenge her children’s perspectives on equality. Lisa Marie speaks of this as a great privilege in comparison to many people and women of color who haven’t had the privilege of an empowered parent figure, able to teach her children about this matter, especially when one is brought up in a society that tells you the exact opposite. Besides having to deal with mixed race experiences, Lisa Marie has also had to fight for her rights as a queer person, and it wasn´t until she met elder queer women of color, who had gone through the same struggles, that her identity-pieces fell into place, and she found herself empowered hereby. She recognizes that her empowered experience as a queer woman of color is often in the minority.
Lisa Marie explains, that her overall feeling of empowerment and development of leadership skills really came to fruition after she was introduced to powerful women, such as Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson-Gilmore and Assata Shakur. Through these mentorships and models , she became very aware of her role as a leader, and she often places herself in spaces, where people aren´t alike her, or spaces with mostly male dominance to challenge the perspectives of leadership and organizational structures.
Women’s roles in organizations and companies are often underestimated. There actual power and leadership are often invisible to the public eye. Even though men often take a disproportionate percentage of the high profile positions in business, a woman is usually responsible of holding the organization or company together. They are often left with the heavy stuff – the social and emotional pieces, which are essential for the overall function. The problem is the invisibility of the powerful women all around the world.
Power comes from struggle, so it is important for women to stand up, to enforce change and challenge male dominants in all areas, creating role models for girls growing up, letting them know, that their position in the world, is equal to any man’s.
A woman, who indeed has stood out as an incredible role model and from whom the rest of the world can learn a lot, is Sampat Pal Devi. Her extraordinary women’s movement, the Gulabi Gang, situated in one of the poorest districts in Nothern India, is marked by female inequality, domestic violence, child labor and child marriages. Still, the Gulabi Gang fights to ensure women’s conditions, treatment and rights to challenge the male authority over women, and to prevent abuse against women and children.
The movement has now grown to fight for all human rights abuses inflicted on the weak. The Pink Sisterhood is inspiring in their struggle to bring about system changes by adopting the simplest of methods, consisting of direct action and confrontation.
There is a contemporary women’s revolution in the making, happening among the poorest of the poor. The spirited women in the Gulabi Gang give themselves fully to take a stand against gender-based violence and inequality. Women of the world are following their lead.
The Coalition on Homelessness seeks to contribute to the struggle by integrating and raising awareness among women of their rights and equal status in society by creating the Women’s Training Group within the Housing Justice workgroup. This groups goal is to empower women, in this case women from Latino immigrant families, homeless families living in hotels (SRO’s), families living in transitional housing or shelters and low-income families in general. The group has created a manifest describing the women’s basic needs in terms of the personal competencies that they wish to gain in order to obtain equality.
Basically the women felt a lack of personal consciousness and understanding, regarding their own role within our society.
On the personal level the women describes, how they were brought up to serve others, while having nobody to serve them, how their voices aren’t being heard or considered, and how the consequence of this is chronic low self-esteem. On the social level the women describes the importance of getting to understand, how the society functions:
“Because we have to bear the greatest responsibility of our homes and often have to have a job in order to keep our sons and daughters, we have to fight for our rights as women, and we have to know our rights as well as the rights we are being denied”
Furthermore the women wishes to become competent to participate politically and in this context be treated with respect and decency:
“We want to be taken into account, to be taken seriously and not just as filler”.
They are confident that, with the right training through this group, they can become just as competent decision makers as any man – maybe even better;
“We can learn to have good ideas of how to rule better and to defend the rights of all citizens, poor or rich”.
Basically this group was created to open up a space, where women can speak up, share knowledge and freely learn, how to take control of their own lives. These women are fighting to have a real choice in life and they strongly believe that with the right support, they will become the true decision makers of their own lives!
This project is a symbol of the spirit behind the modern International Women’s Day. The tone and nature of the International Women’s Day has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives. It has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration in big parts of the world. For decades, the International women’s day has grown from strength to strength annually, and events that honor women’s advancement, while diligently creating awareness of the continued oppression against women, are held throughout the world.
But! Action is still required to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life and in all parts of the world. So make a difference, think globally and act locally!! Make everyday International Women’s Day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for women and girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.