Saturday, March 8, 2008

International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day! What, you didn't know today has been a day of global celebration of women for 99 years? That's not surprising since most of American media completely ignore it and always have.

Okay, I'd better put a disclaimer right here. This is off topic and has nothing whatsoever to do with the sex act. It does, however, have a lot to do with women. I get two daily newspapers, The Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times (which bills itself as Florida's Best Newspaper). Neither one happened to mention that today is International Women's Day. Well, I figured, they are local papers, even though they both have sections that purport to cover international news. So I visited the esteemed New York Times website. Surely, such a sophisticated newspaper would have something about this incredibly important day devoted to helping women in all countries achieve their full potential in life. Nope. Not a word.

If you want news about International Women's Day, you'll have to rely on Canadian, British, French, Indian, even Trinidadian news media, which all carried, if not substantial coverage, at least more than American media.

According to the official IWD website, the groundwork for IWD was laid in 1908, when 15,000 women marched in New York City demanding voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours. A year later, the Socialist Party of America organized the first International Women's Day. Maybe that's why we ignore it here in the States. Because it was started by--gasp!--socialists! By 1911, it was celebrated by more than a million women in Europe and the United States. They probably didn't get much ink from the media then either.

The United Nations held IWD conferences for several years and designated 1975 International Women's Year. IWD is now an official holiday in Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

That's right, we had a whole year more than a quarter of a century ago, and after almost 100 years, it's an official holiday in only a handful of Eastern European and Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Although they don't give it an actual day, the governments of the United States, Australia, and some provinces of Canada officially "support" the day. Wow. Gee, thanks, democracy! Your support means so much to me--not in any material way, of course--like giving us a day off to honor our incredible contributions to the world, or in pay equity, since women in this country still earn only 77 cents for each dollar a man is paid.

Women in the United States got the right to vote in 1920, with the passage of the 19th Amendment, though some states allowed them limited voting rights before that. That's right, we haven't even had that right for 100 years. Canadian women got the right to vote in 1918, though they were not declared to be "persons" until 1929.

Forgive me if I feel a little bit sad and angry today. It's supposed to be a day of celebration. But the truth is, most women in this country probably don't even know that today is International Women's Day. And if they did, would it make any difference? Will we ever value ourselves enough to settle for nothing less than full equality and pay parity? Will we ever value each other enough to understand that equal rights and pay for women are good for both women and men, and that in demanding them, we are in no way saying we don't love and value men?

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