March 8 is International Women’s Day. It is a time to celebrate the collective accomplishments of women worldwide. International Women’s Day has been celebrated since the early 1900’s to celebrate the accomplishments of women and to acknowledge achievements that are yet to come. In 1908, 15,000 women marched in New York City for shorter working hours, larger pay and voting rights. Today with several countries having elected women presidents, women CEO’s in the boardroom and greater freedoms for women worldwide, some may wonder why we need International Women’s Day. Some Millennials believe that women have already reached the top of the mountain.
The sad reality is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men. And we do not need to go abroad to see the disparity in women’s rights; we can look no farther than our own backyard.
One day before International Women’s Day, the Violence against Women Act (“VAWA”) was reauthorized and signed into law by President Obama to grant greater protections to women including Native American women and LGBT women. It took an unprecedented almost 500 days to re-authorize the VAWA. In America, thanks to the Republican controlled Congress and state Republican Governors, the reproductive rights of women are compromised in an ongoing manner. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, South Dakota just signed into law the country’s most extreme anti-abortion law which makes an unprecedented mandatory delay of 72 business hours wait to obtain an abortion. Despite the majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to choose, extreme anti-reproductive rights legislation continues. And recent studies show that women still undeniably lag behind men when it comes to equal pay. While the amount of the difference in pay may be argued, it is undeniable that women still make less than men for the same job and with the same experience. Yet, the Paycheck Fairness Act has not become law in our own country. In other countries around the world, women are still persecuted for trying to obtain an education as in the recent case of 14 year old Pakistani Malala Yousafaszai who was shot in the face for speaking out about girls and women getting an education in her country.
As we celebrate our successes here and abroad, let us not forget that until we are all free, none of us are free. Gloria Steinem says it best in summing up International Women’s Day, “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” International Women’s Day is for everyone who cares about human rights. Rep. Nancy Pelosi sums up International Women’s Day by saying, “we celebrate distance traveled toward equality and recommit to keep moving forward.”
For more information about International Women’s Day, go to International Women’s Day.com.
Debbie Hines is an attorney and former prosecutor who frequently appears in the media and addresses issues on gender and race. She also contributes articles to the Women’s Media Center blog.