Let’s Celebrate International Women’s Day!
International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women. Not just the amazing women who have fought for women’s rights and equality, but all women and how they contribute to our societies. Traditionally International Women’s Day is a day for women to call for change. This year, the theme is “Each for Equal” and reflects the need for gender equality in all areas of life. In this blog post we will look at the history of International Women’s Day, talk about why it is important, take a quick look at female role models for English learners and talk about how you can share in this day!
Women’s Day started in New York in 1909 – on February 28. It was organized by the Socialist Party of America to honor female members of the party. A year later in 1910, Clara Zetkin, a passionate German socialist, proposed at the International Socialist Woman's Conference that March 8 be selected as a day for honoring working women. It was agreed and March 8 was established as International Women’s Day.
For many years International Women’s Day was mainly celebrated in socialist and communist countries. In 1917 women in Soviet Russia were awarded the right to vote and March 8 was declared a national holiday. March 8 is still considered the most important day for women in modern Russia.
In the late 60’s that International Women’s Day was adopted by the feminist movement and began to become more popular. Finally, in 1975 the United Nations formally acknowledged International Women’s Day and in doing so, officially made it an International day of celebration.
Why it is important to celebrate women?
Today International Women’s Day is as much about celebrating and pushing for gender equality as it is about celebrating women. Although things are getting better and better not a single country can say they have gender equality.
In many countries rules and laws still exist that prevent women from doing the same jobs as men. And even in places where women CAN do the same jobs as men, many are looked over or simply do not have the same opportunities presented to them. In fact, if we look at all the countries in the world in 2019, less than 25 per cent of all people in government were women.
Although progress is happening, it is not happening at the same speed everywhere. Change is very slow in many places, especially in developing countries. Even when laws are changed, sometimes culture and tradition still form a barrier to real progress. A good example of this is that women are still paid less than men. Even when the woman is more qualified, she will still be offered less than a man, and be expected to be grateful for the opportunity. This must change.
Successful female immigrant role models in the U.S.
There are tons of successful women in the United States (and other English-speaking countries) that just like you, had to learn English! Here are a few examples of female role models who also know what it is like to move to a new country, learn a language and adapt to a new culture.
Senator Mazie K. Hirono is a Democrat from Hawaii. She was born in Japan, where she spent the first years of her life. She moved with her mother to Hawaii in 1957 and became an American citizen in 1959. Although she was very young when she moved to the United States, she still had to learn a new language and culture. That did not stop her though, she was the first female senator in Hawaii and the first-ever Asian-America female senator in any state.
Democratic representative, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota is quite well known these days for being a foreign-born, female politician. Ilhan Omar was born in Somalia. She grew up at a time when Somalia was at war. Because of this her family left in search of a better life. Ilhan spent 4 years at a refugee camp in Kenya before being resettled in the United States when she was 12.
Like Mazie, Ilhan has to learn to speak English and adapt to American culture, including facing many challenges as a Muslim woman. Ilhan is the first Somali-American, the first naturalized citizen from Africa, and the first non-white woman elected from Minnesota. She is also one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress (there are two).
There are also a number of influential female celebrities that were born outside the United States and had to learn English on their journey. Not everyone has heard of Rita Moreno, but they really should have! Rita is an EGOT. What does this mean? It means that she is one of a very small number of actors who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and a Tony award!
Rita was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the United States as a child. Rita’s first language was Spanish and claimed to have learnt English on the streets of the Bronx. At 13 she had her first role on Broadway and made a career as a multi-talented singer, dancer and actress. Rita is most famous for her roles in West Side Story and Singin’ in the Rain.
What you can do for equality
There are many everyday things that you can do to celebrate International Women's Day and promote equality. Something that is very easy to do, is to use gender-inclusive language. This means concentrating on selecting words that do not discriminate against a particular sex or gender identity when you speak and write. Language is really important in changing social attitudes. Through using gender-inclusive language we support and normalize gender equality.
Another simple thing you can do is speak up! If you hear someone say something inappropriate about any gender identity, be brave and say, “I don’t think that is funny”! By letting people know that what they are saying is not ok, you are helping to stop the cycle of inequality.
A great way to celebrate International Women’s Day is to do something nice for the women in your life – it could be as simple as saying ‘thank you’. In some countries like Russia, March 8 is a very special day. Traditionally women are given flowers and small gifts, and everyone gets the day off to spend time with their loved ones.
It is important that we appreciate, respect and fight for each other’s rights. It doesn’t matter what your gender identity is supporting each other, especially in the fight for equality is extremely important and is the perfect way to support women this International Women’s Day and beyond.