A century of women’s days: What to celebrate and what not to

International Women's Day Thailand

International Women's Day Thailand

Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, a celebration of women born out of the early 20th-century labor and suffragette movements.

Given its original socialist worker underpinnings, it’s perhaps no surprise this day is more widely celebrated in Europe and elsewhere than it has been in the U.S. (where even saying the “S” word seems to cause people to twitch.)

Here’s a video from Russia Today reminding men that they need to go buy flowers today. It’s a national holiday there:

Women’s advocates around the world have worked hard over the years to transform this day into something less overtly political and more focused on the economic, social, cultural as well as political achievements of women worldwide.

There is much to be celebrated, beginning with:

  1. Women have been gaining a greater proportion of positions of political and economic power worldwide, which in the U.S. is often marked as originating with women here winning the right to vote in 1920.
  2. Also in the U.S., woman hold the majority of middle management positions (though still lag way behind in the CEO ranks) and are also the majority of today’s college graduates.
  3. Globally, according to the head of a new women’s agency at the United Nations, women have made extraordinary gains over the past century in terms of gender equity, political influence, access to jobs and wider recognition of the need for more female influence in all corridors of power and aspects of society.
  4. Maternal mortality, though still unacceptably high in many poor countries, has declined significantly due to a number of factors. (Interestingly, this fact was not universally welcomed by women’s health advocates.)
  5. The proliferation of laws worldwide aimed at reducing discrimination against women.

But as this video of our latest version of James Bond (actor Daniel Craig) dressed in drag is meant to illustrate, there is still much to be done and many hardships faced by women around the globe. Here’s 007’s new assignment:

But it is important to recognize that we are not yet even close to global gender equity:

  1. By far, men still hold most of the top political and economic positions of power.
  2. Women do an estimated two-thirds of the work in the world, but hold ownership to only about one percent of the property, typically have incomes well below those of men and at the same time are the primary family caretakers.
  3. Globally, 90 percent of the 1.3 billion people who live in extreme poverty (less than $1 per day) are women.
  4. Sexual and domestic violence against women is still widespread everywhere.
  5. Maternal mortality, while it has declined globally overall by 30 percent, is still a major killer in poor countries. The chance of an American mother dying in childbirth is something like one in 40,000. The chances of a mother in Afghanistan dying in childbirth is one in 10.

There are many more reasons to both celebrate this day and to push for change. I won’t even try to cite all of the articles out there celebrating this day, but it’s encouraging to see the amount of attention given. That’s a change from years past.

I would also note that next week in Seattle, supermodel Christy Turlington Burns will be in town for a showing of a documentary she’s promoting on women’s health called No Woman, No Cry.  Yeah, yeah, I know. A supermodel promoting women’s issues…. I suggest withholding judgment until you see the film.

Also, here’s a list provided by Global Washington of what some local organizations like PATH, Landesa and World Vision are doing to promote women’s health and well-being.

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.