What International Women’s Day Means to Me. By Katy Walsh

The first time I even heard of International Women’s Day (IWD) was on a trip to Morocco in 2011.

It was March 8th.  While my friends and I were waiting for a tour bus to take us around the town of Fes, we were approached by a group of teens working on a film documentary about International Women’s Day.  As Americans, I imagined we fell into the extra credit zone.  The students were particularly interested in how my male friends felt about IWD.  Because Arabic is the official language in Fes, each of the youth had their question written in Arabic and English.  With the camera rolling, they interviewed in English.  When they finally got around to asking Jen and me what we thought of IWD, Jen plugged (then) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s work in establishing women as leaders.  – from my travel blog

Both the IWD celebration and the students’ investigation of it was fascinating. Here we were in a country where women have limited rights.  They are required to be covered up.  Even as tourists, Jen and I had to ensure all skin was covered from neck to foot.  Although we didn’t have to have our heads covered, the modesty enforcement was real.  I had an incident where the scarf around my neck loosened to reveal a hint of skin.  A young Moroccan guy started screaming and hissing at me.  He was inches from my face. It was a very disconcerting moment for me.  Jen and I were traveling with ten men.  I somehow wandered away from our safety herd and was accosted.

Despite that incident, Morocco was a wonderful trip. Although there were men cafes that Jen and I could not enter, the country was very welcoming. Women might not be respected as equals.  They are somewhat revered as the gentler sex.  At restaurants, Jen and I were always given menus first and served before our guy friends. And on a train from Marrakech to Fes, we were given roses for International Women’s Day.

Read about the day we spent with Moroccan social workers who visited Chicago.

The earliest Woman’s Day was held in 1909 in New York. It commemorated the 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. In 1910, German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed establishing an annual International Woman’s Day as a strategy to promote equal rights, including suffrage, for women.  In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 8th as the day to honor women’s rights and world peace, International Women’s Day.

Different countries celebrate the day in different ways.  In Italy, Russia and Albania, men give women yellow mimosas and chocolates. Flowers and small gifts are the IWD custom in many countries.  Employers honor their female workers.  Students give presents to their female teachers. In countries where cultural and religious restrictions limit women’s rights, citizens use IWD to hold formal and informal demonstrations for equality.

The International Woman’s Day theme for 2016 is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. An independent campaign, separate from the UN, is being run by financial firm EY with other corporate partners, organizing events around a #PledgeForParity hashtag.

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