International Women’s Day: “Women of the World Unite”


Women gather to fight for their rights (Flickr/Molly Adams).

Ayelet Bernstein and Lucy Singer

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017, was International Women’s Day (IWD). While some have expressed that IWD is an outlet to protest President Trump, others notice that in reality, International Women’s Day has sparked an uproar of protestors and strikers from all over the world for decades. The IWD website, even now, has ten core values specific to the movement: justice, dignity, hope, equality, collaboration, tenacity, appreciation, respect, empathy, and forgiveness.

International Women’s Day has been celebrated for over 100 years. The official International Women’s Day website shares this day’s rich history: on February 28, 1909, the first National Women’s Day in the United States was observed. By the next year, National Women’s Day turned into “International Women’s Day with the participation of Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. In 1913, just before World War One, Russian women campaigned for peace by celebrating IWD. As World War I (WWI) broke out, women across Europe rallied together in protest of the brutal war. On March 8, 1917, Russian women began a strike for “bread and peace” in reaction to the death of 2 million Russian soldiers in WWI.

The IWD website, even now, has ten core values specific to the movement: justice, dignity, hope, equality, collaboration, tenacity, appreciation, respect, empathy, and forgiveness.

This momentous strike lasted for four days until the Czar was forced to grant women the right to vote. A great feat for the gender equality movement came in 1975, when the UN celebrated International Women’s Day for the first time ever. By 1977, the General Assembly proclaimed a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. Despite these achievements, IWD stalled in 2000; feminism wasn’t a popular or “relevant” issue anymore.

As a comeback to this stagnation, the International Women’s Day website was launched in order to revive IWD and celebrate women’s triumphs and to continue demands for gender parity. In 2011, the 100 year anniversary of International Women’s day, former President Barack Obama declared March as “Women’s History Month,” and the US Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, also celebrated the 100th anniversary by starting the “100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchange.”

Now, IWD is an important holiday annually celebrated around the world by every gender on March 8. By incorporating the rich history, core values, and current issues, 2017’s International Women’s Day has taken society by the ropes and forced people to see the persistence and passion females have for their equality and voice.

This year, protests and demonstrations in South America, Iceland, Russia, India, Egypt, France, Argentina, Italy, South Korea and The United States were few who grabbed media attention. The rallies and protests have not been for naught; according to the London Associate Press, as of Wednesday March 8th (International Women’s Day) “Iceland will be the first country in the world to make employers prove they offer equal pay regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality.” Meanwhile, four Russian feminist activist women were arrested for publicly denouncing the Russian Patriarchy. In other news, “The Egyptian authorities said they would allow female prisoners an extra family visit,” (NYtimes) during the month of March, in honor of Women’s History Month and the Italian Ministry of cultural Heritage declares free admission into all museums and cultural sites for all women throughout the country has declared free entry for all women. The Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage declared free admission into all museums and cultural sites for all women throughout the country. The day has even inspired revolutionaries like the “waste warriors” in India. The “waste warriors” work to create safer and more sanitary conditions for women and children. Statistics show that women who do not have access to a toilet are more likely to be sexually assaulted when attempting to “defecate” in the open. Many women, who are aware of this fact, have starved themselves out of fear of assault. This year, a ‘No Toilet, No Bride’  statute was passed by the Indian Rural Develo, mandating that “no daughters be given away in marriage to a household that did not have a toilet.”

The Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage declared free admission into all museums and cultural sites for all women throughout the country

Although the day has seen some major achievements, there is still much work to be done. Women in France organized a protest in major cities based off of a “list of 20 demands,” including salary increases, less temporary work and better enforcement of penalties for companies that discriminate against women, including when they are pregnant.” (NY Times) In Argentina a public-sector employee, Erika Monteiro, joined the protests outside her building during her lunch break, citing that every 30 hours “another woman is killed just for being a woman.” Over 700 women gathered in the streets of Seoul to protest the gender wage gap with signs reading “3 o’clock stop” signaling the fact that they are working for free after 3’oclock.

Though sparking the bulk of the media attention this year, the United States has held many International Women’s Day rallies and protests. This years in particular included the Women’s March, the March on Washington, and the “Day Without Women” movement. The “Day Without Women” was an organized work strike in which people wore red and did not come into work.  At least three United States public school districts closed school on March 8th due to the anticipation of lack of teacher and student attendance.

Many Jewish people have compared International Women’s Day to Purim, a holiday recently celebrated on Sunday, the 12th March. IWD is all about female empowerment, gender equality, and independence. When asked about the International Women’s Day sentiment in connection to Judaism, Rabbi Ed Harwitz, Weber’s Head of School, asserts that these past two decades have been years “where significant numbers of women were studying, teaching, conducting research and offering important Jewish educational and religious leadership.” The story of Purim reflects these ideals through Vashti and Esther. At the beginning of the Megillah, Vashti refuses to be objectified by her husband, King Ahasuerus, and demands respect by not dancing for him and his guests. As a result of Vashti’s defiance, she is dethroned and King Ahasuerus goes on to find a new wife. He sees Esther at a beauty contest and marries her. At first Esther hides her Judaism but eventually reveals herself in order to save her community from the wrath of Hamen. Vashti’s independence and Esther’s heroism can be used to empower women to improve society.

IWD is all about female empowerment, gender equality, and independence.

Rabbi Harwitz reflects upon the experience of hearing women interpret Jewish text, noting that “If it was only for their intelligence, creativity and insight I would have said dayyenu [it would have been enough] –  but more importantly, they open a deeper truth of the texts that a male student cannot see.” Jewish community professional, social worker, educator, writer, and author, Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez, postulates the “deeper truth” behind the story of Purim. She states that it “is the very essence of what International Women’s Day is all about. Celebrating women who do what needs to be done, even when it isn’t easy.” No matter where you live or how old you are, IWD is an outlet to make impactful changes in our world.