Five years ago today, a man in Paris stopped me to give me a flower as I walked down the Boulevard St. Germain.
“For you, on your special day,” he told me. Reading the confusion on my face, he quickly added, “Happy International Women’s Day!”
I smiled and thanked him as I accepted the flower.
Twenty-one years I’d been living on this earth, and March 8, 2011 was the first time I had ever heard of International Women’s Day. Why did I have to move abroad to learn about this important commemoration?
Women’s Day isn’t a foreign concept. Its roots can be traced back to February 28, 1909 in the United States when the Socialist Party of America observed the first National Women’s Day, but progress on national recognition for this occasion stalled with the dissolution of the party and earning the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1975 that the United Nations began to recognize and celebrate the day. In 1977, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.
Perhaps the occasion’s ties to labor ideals associated with Lenin’s socialist party affected its success in the United States. Perhaps male politicians thought it was enough to give women the right to vote in 1920 or allowing women to permanently join the workforce after World War II was significant progress.
Whatever the reasons were that have stopped International Women’s Day from being as widely-celebrated in the United States as holidays like Mother’s Day, they are no longer valid. It’s 2016. We should be celebrating all women at all stages of life, especially the independent, working woman.
According to a study by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, women today drive the global economies. We invest more of our income than men in education, health, and nutrition, yet in the global workforce, we make 10 to 30 percent less money than men. If women were paid an equal rate, $28 trillion (26%) could be added to the global annual GDP by 2025. If you really think about it, parity in the workforce would open up opportunities and resources to address some of our biggest social challenges.
Today should be celebrated as loudly as Mother’s Day, if not louder. The conversation today should be about gender parity, but it should also go beyond that. We should be talking about empowering women of all ages by: celebrating female friendships, heroes, and matriarchy; embracing singlehood as an opportunity for independence, strength, and growth; vocalizing our right to choose what we do with our own bodies; and, sharing the gifts of diversity in age, physical appearance, and culture. Most importantly, today’s conversations should include men. We cannot expect them to know or share in our thinking if we exclude them.
March 8, 2011 marked the first time I was acknowledged for being a woman in this world—no strings attached—and I continue to celebrate International Women’s Day with my family and friends each year.
Join me in loudly celebrating double X chromosomes today by sharing your appreciation with your friends and family. You can join the larger conversation on social media by using the hashtag #IWD2016.