The United Nations, which officially declared the 8th of March International Women’s Day (IWD) in 1975, wants nations to “Step It Up” [http://beijing20.unwomen.org/en/step-it-up] and pledge gender parity and empowerment of women and girls by 2030. A lot of nations have made commitments – although not yet (rather disappointingly) Canada.
But why the 8th of March? I like to think that the fitful, reluctant, blustery, but finally gloriously colourful arrival of spring is good symbol of the halting progress that women have made towards full parity in the modern world.
Maybe we celebrate on the 8th of March because that was the day in 1914 that Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested at a demonstration for women’s right to the vote. That may sound tame, but the year before, Sylvia tried to burn down the Houses of Parliament. She was, in fact, a dangerous revolutionary, literally willing to die for the cause.
Another theory is that the women’s strikes for “Bread and Peace” that triggered the Russian Revolution were held on the last Friday in February, which is about the 8th of March when you adjust for the differences in the Russian calendar.
That’s 102 years ago. If we put recorded history on a scale since the 1st of January, that’s just yesterday. On the same scale, the UN ambition to achieve gender parity by sundown seems pretty ambitious.
March is still winter. One in three women experiences violence, and every ten minutes an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence. Out of an estimated 35 million people living with HIV, over two million are 10 to 19 years old and 56% of them are girls. Globally, around one third of women aged 20 to 24 were child brides.
But March also starts to smell like spring. My current Queen’s Alumni Review [http://www.queensu.ca/gazette/alumnireview/stories/search-dark-matter] includes an article on astrophysicist Allie Vibert Douglas, who taught physics at Queens in the 1940s and 1950s, but also a delightful photograph of a young woman from Cameroon via Italy who studies “dark matter” holding the shining sphere she uses in her research. From Ghana (discussions on women in the arts) to England (women brewing beer) to Australia (a charity run, of course) there’s plenty to celebrate for women.
Personally, I’m less of a Burn down the Houses type, and more of a “grow your own garden” type. I don’t expect to lead the charge to make Canada “Step It Up.” But since the International Women’s Day theme this year is “Pledge for Parity,” I did take the pledge to:
- help women and girls achieve their ambitions,
- challenge conscious and unconscious bias,
- call for gender-balanced leadership,
- value women and men’s contributions equally, and
- create inclusive, flexible cultures.
I know, too, that I would not be writing this if some women weren’t ready to march, hunger strike, and – yes – burn down the houses of parliament. So I’ll try to honour them at the same time I honour my pledges, and to encourage everyone else I know to do the same. If you would like to take the pledge, you can do it here: http://www.internationalwomensday.com/Pledge. Spring may just around the corner, but gardens always need cultivating.