Six Ways to Celebrate Women on International Women’s Day

Credit: Annastaysia Savage 2015

By Maggie Cousin

I grew up in upstate New York keenly aware of gender issues and yet, I had never even heard about International Women’s Day until I lived in China in the early 2000s. I remember being in my early 20s, in my first year in the Peace Corps, teaching at a college in rural Southwest China, and being summoned to an all-faculty assembly. My Chinese was still limited so I wasn’t quite clear on what exactly we were celebrating but I happily accepted the arm full of flowers offered to me. Then, I took my place at the front of the assembly with all of the other women faculty. Over the next hour, it dawned on me. This was a celebration - a celebration filled with songs, poems, and speeches about the power of women and how we should be lifted up and revered. I did not understand many of the words that day, but I absolutely understood the spirit. Later, I asked many questions of my students and faculty peers about this ritual and ceremony.

“Yes, we hold a celebration of women every year. Women hold up half the sky!”
“No, we don’t have a day to celebrate men.”
“March 8 is better than Mother’s Day. It’s a day to celebrate ALL women, not just mothers!”
“Yes, women teachers are especially revered!”

The idea of the celebration was marvelous to me. My students further explained that International Women’s Day isn’t just about celebrating women by giving flowers or singing songs (albeit a lovely gesture), it's really about a collective reflection on the achievements of women and the continued work toward gender parity. 

In recognition of this day, I call upon you to use your power as a leader, manager, colleague, teacher, partner, or friend to create equity.

Consider these action steps:

  • Call out inequity- If you’re a leader, it’s imperative that you call out inappropriate or exclusionary behavior, even when it happens in informal interactions. Give employees who exhibit those behaviors direct, one-on-one feedback outlining how their comments or actions marginalized their colleagues and impacted the team as a whole, and use these experiences as opportunities for collective learning.
  • Amplify women’s voices- Quote women, share women’s stories, attend events hosted by women, retweet women, read women’s stories. Educate yourself on women’s history left out of history books. Listen to and believe women. Vote for women.
  • Put your money where your mouth is. Seek out women-led initiatives and businesses Create a list of women-owned businesses that you can share with people who ask you for referrals.
  • Check your biases. Pay attention to and actively interrupt gender bias in your life. Think about the pronouns you select when you describe the protagonist of a movie or book. Identify books and movies that portray women in non-stereotypical ways or that have women authors or producers. 
  • Support non-profit organizations working for women- Nonprofits focused on women and girls receive just 1.6% of all charitable giving. As a result, many of these groups remain small, with limited operating costs, employees, and therefore impact.  
  • Mentor girls and raise their aspirations- Inspire your daughters and other girls to chase their dreams. Compliment girls on their intelligence, skill, and athletic performance, rather than their appearance.  

I invite you to celebrate women with me. Make a plan to uplift women and create equity... today, tomorrow, and every day.

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