International Women's Day
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International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day, celebrated every year on March 8th, is this week. On this day, the world celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. In addition, it makes a call to action to accelerate gender equality. Let’s have a look at the history first and then talk about the women of this century who were pivotal for development of women worldwide.

Women are Humanitarians

CARE International reports that evidence-based global trends in efforts to protect and assist people caught up in natural disasters and conflict will be more effective if women can contribute, not just as gender tokens or victims but as frontline responders. Women’s staffing at all levels, including leadership, should be mandatory for all donors. And lastly, partnerships between local women’s organizations should be garnered and strengthened with at least a 25% increase in multi-year and flexible funding, coupled with accountability in crisis response funding. CARE has thrown down the women’s gauntlet: These present both a challenge and an opportunity for the humanitarian system!

History of International Women’s Day

The United States wasn’t a fair place for women in the early days of the twentieth century. There was a remarkable protest from the women, and they were invoking a very critical debate. Women were becoming more vocal, demanding change and pushing for the blatant oppression and inequality in this country to be addressed permanently. Then in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City for shorter hours, higher salaries and voting rights. Twelve months later, to mark the occasion, there was the first celebration of this seminal event as a Socialist political movement.

In 1910, a second International Conference of Working Women was organized in Copenhagen. Clara Zetkin was the leader of the Women’s Office of the German Social Democratic Party. She proposed the idea of a dedicated day for women. More than a hundred women in attendance were unanimously enthusiastic about the idea, and so the International Women’s Day was born.

Following the decision made in Copenhagen, the first iteration of the event was celebrated in Europe a year later. More than one million people across Denmark, Austria, Germany and Switzerland attended rallies to campaign for women’s rights to vote, work and to end discrimination altogether.

This event was held for the first time on March 8, 1914 (most likely because it was a Sunday). Since that year, the commemorative day is always held on the 8th day of March in all countries. The United Nations celebrated this date for the first time in 1975 − by the United Nations.

International Women’s Day Theme

This year’s theme is “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”. International Women’s Day comes on the heels of unprecedented global movement for women’s rights, equality and justice. People around the world are mobilizing for a future that is more equal. With the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, findings tell us that gender parity is over 200 years away. There has never been a more important time to stay motivated to fuel the various movements.

Global Campaigns Fuelled By Social Media

In the last year, several campaigns were organized by women spontaneously, including #MeToo in the USA and its counterparts in other countries, to protest against sexual harassment and violence:

  • #YoTambien in Mexico, Spain, South America and beyond
  • #QuellaVoltaChe in Italy
  • #BalanceTonPorc in France
  • #Ana_kaman in the Arab States.

Gender parity won’t happen overnight. But across the world women are making positive contributions every day to a very strong and growing global women’s movement of advocacy, activism and support. International Women’s Day belongs to all groups collectively everywhere that are fighting for their causes. Every woman will step in the footsteps of these famous humanitarian women who have been fighting for women’s rights. Let’s have a look at the most famous humanitarians.

The most famous female humanitarians

Mother Theresa

She was an Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun and missionary. She’s known in the Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. This is a Roman Catholic religious congregation, which in 2012 consisted of over 4,500 sisters and was active in 133 countries. They run homes for people dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy, and tuberculosis. Mother Teresa was the recipient of numerous honors, including the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. On September 4, 2016, she was recognized by the Catholic Church as a saint, which acknowledged her status as one of the most famous humanitarians.

Mother Teresa

Harriet Tubman

Tubman was beaten and whipped by her various masters as a child. She was born a slave. After escaping from slavery, she grew to become the best-known underground railroad “conductor“. Slowly, she guided hundreds of other slaves, one group at a time, to freedom. Traveling by night and in extreme secrecy, Tubman reportedly never lost a passenger. She also worked for the United States Army during the American Civil War − first as a cook and nurse, and then as an armed scout and spy. She guided the raid at Combahee Ferry during the Civil War that liberated more than 700 slaves. After she died in 1913, she quickly became an icon of American courage and freedom and one of the most famous humanitarians.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton

Elizabeth Ann-Seton was the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Born a true daughter of the American Revolution on August 28, 1774, just two years before the Declaration of Independence. By birth and marriage, she was linked to the first families of New York and enjoyed the fruits of high society. She founded the first American religious community for women, the Sisters of Charity, and opened the first American parish school. Throughout her lifespan of just 46 years, she also established the first American Catholic orphanage. Pope Paul VI canonized her on September 14, 1975, in a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square. Elizabeth Seton is the patron saint of seafarers.

Angelina Jolie

Jolie has dedicated her time and fame to serve the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). In April 2012, she was appointed Special Envoy of the UNHCR. In that role, Jolie focuses on major crises that result in mass population displacements, undertaking advocacy and representing UNHCR and the High Commissioner at the diplomatic level. Through her work, she has helped find essential solutions for people who were forced to flee their homes. You can read more about this work in her personal notes. She also joined the organization SOS Children’s Villages. Through donations from the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, she supports and allows the organization to continue helping thousands of children in the SOS villages.

Melinda Ann Gates

Gates is an American philanthropist, born August 15, 1964. She is a former Microsoft employee and co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They invest in the development of new tools including drugs and strategies to prevent or delay drug resistance. In December 2005, Melinda and Bill Gates were named by Time as Persons of the Year. Melinda Gates was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, in 2013, by Duke University as a tribute to her philanthropic commitment. She was also ranked #3 in Forbes 2013 and 2014 lists of the 100 Most Powerful Women. Gates donates billions to philanthropy through their foundation. In the couple’s 10th annual letter, she describes the decision to establish their foundation, “It’s meaningful work”. Even before she married Bill Gates, they talked about how they would spend a lot of time on philanthropy.

Kathy Tillotson

Her organization, Build Futures, finds housing for men and women ages 18 to 24, a group needing help that is often overlooked. The small and quiet nonprofit also provides resources and support intended to help these young people maintain employment, self-sufficiency and long-term independence. Kathy Tillotson says, “Homeless youth are not a problem, they are our future”. L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth recently awarded a grant to her organization for the homeless youth project.

Oprah Winfrey

Who doesn’t know Oprah, queen of media? But do you know about her dedicated efforts to help people all over the world through charitable giving, her own foundations and programs to help underserved communities? Oprah’s Angel Network partners with other humanitarian organizations like Free the Children to build and supply schools, Katrina and Rita who built homes for Katrina victims and many other organizations that are making a difference in the lives of others.

Hilda Clark

Dr. Clark was a British physician specializing in pulmonary tuberculosis care, a passionate humanitarian aid worker and leader in hospitals for refugees in France in World War I, the Spanish Civil War and World War II. During the 1920s, Hilda was an active member of a number of humanitarian organizations including the League of Nations, the Women’s Peace Crusade (of which she was secretary), the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the International Commission for the Assistance of Child Refugees as well as Quaker campaigns such as the Friends’ Service Council.

Jordan's Queen Rania

Queen Rania

She was proclaimed Queen of Jordan in March of 1999 by her husband King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein and in this role has received over 28 awards in 13 countries from 2001 to 2017 for her many leadership roles and tireless efforts in humanitarian efforts for education, reading, women and girls, youth, and microfinance projects. She is also an author of four children’s books, all of which portrayed her life and culture as a child and then as queen. She promotes her projects with her social media accounts and a YouTube channel advocating intercultural dialogue. Forbes Magazine ranked her as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world in 2011. Read more about Queen Rania.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai born in 1997 has gained global admiration and recognition after a Taliban assassination attempt on her life as a young child for her efforts to advocate for girls’ education. Even at the tender age of 11, she blogged for the BBC about living in Pakistan while the Taliban threatened to close girls’ school. As she survived and thrived, she became the youngest person to receive a Nobel Peace Prize after making speeches around the world, including at the UN and publishing her first book, I am Malala. As a now young adult, she continues to advocate for women’s rights globally. Read more about Malala.

Malala Yousafzai

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a South African, is the Executive Director of UN Women with the goal of securing equality through humanitarian aid. She has worked tirelessly for youth and women through her leadership in development organizations such as Natal Organisation of Women (NOW), the Young Women’s International Programme and TEAM, a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) and promoted economic self-reliance and running skills training programs for women. Through mentorship and coaching for teachers, the Umlambo Foundation provides support to schools in impoverished areas. Phumzile continues to be involved in this organization that was established in 2008. She retired from politics where she has served a Deputy President of South Africa.

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