Tuesday March 08, 2011 at 14:59

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today we’re celebrating the 100th International Women’s Day.

In 1910, at the second International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen, the delegates voted that an annual Women’s Day should be celebrated worldwide to bring attention to women’s needs. At the time, women didn’t have many political or civil rights and couldn’t demand them because most women didn’t have the right to vote. This happened ten years before women in the United States were able to vote.

The following year, in 1911, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated. Over time, many countries made this a yearly national holiday. For women struggling for gender equality and empowerment this day of celebration brings focus to our needs.

Since then, women in many countries have made significant progress toward gender equality. Most of us have the right to vote, access to good education and jobs, although we still don’t get paid as much as men do on average. We’re also not equally represented in government when compared to men.

In developing countries women have not fared as well. Girls have less access to education than boys and consequently many women are illiterate. Most are poor. Arranged marriage for girls under age 18 is common. This is followed by early motherhood and many bear up to seven children. For them this is the only choice they know.

There is a movement to end abuse of women and to improve education of girls and allow women access to employment because countries where women have a voice tend to be more peaceful and more viable economically. Improving the lot of women benefits the whole society.

In some countries, the International Women’s Day helps focus on a struggle for basic rights while in other countries it is a day for honoring women rather like celebrating a Mother’s Day. It is their special day and they get flowers and small gifts from friends, co-workers and family. In a few countries, even large ones like the United States, it’s not celebrated at all.

As I watch the events in the world, I see more women and girls stepping into the limelight and standing their ground without first asking for permission. I’m happy to see this trend and I hope it grows. I hope it grows everywhere around the world!

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For more information about the International Women’s Day see http://www.internationalwomensday.com/first.asp and http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/womensday/index.aspWomen.

I’d like to encourage people to help women in underdeveloped countries by donating to organizations like Heifer International, http://www.heifer.org/ which allows women to feed their families and earn small amounts of money by raising livestock, or to Global Fund for Women, http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/ which funds programs dedicated to improving women’s rights around the world.

Sunday March 28, 2010 at 13:01

Enthusiasm Rules!

Women’s History Month, which the United States celebrates in March, is coming to a close. I think that we’ve made tremendous progress in the last century. The pages of women’s history are being filled in at an incredible rate. It’s amazing to think that only about a hundred years ago, women didn’t have many civil and political rights that we take for granted today. Women’s suffrage was first won in New Zealand in 1893. In the United States, women got the right to vote in 1920. Other countries followed suit until 2006 when the latest country to give women the right to vote was the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia is the only country that still does not allow women to vote.

Since women’s suffrage became law, we’ve been able to influence elections of our representatives to local and national governments and make sure politicians of both genders are sensitive to our needs. Everybody deserves to be respected like a full member of society!

I especially value that we now have free access to education. Until a hundred years ago many women, and many men, too, were illiterate and they depended on someone else to tell them what they needed to know. Can you imagine how powerless they were and how easily they could be manipulated? For some people it was even illegal to know how to read and write. Even today, women in some parts of the world still have no right or opportunity to go to school.

Knowledge is power and it builds confidence. It exercises your mind and teaches you skills that you can trade for income and success. Without it you can be easily persuaded that working for free is your natural lot in life and that you have little bargaining power.

Besides formal education, I get knowledge and confidence by reading books about other people’s ideas and histories. They help me imagine worlds that are unfamiliar to me. Books give me tools for dreaming and creating a blueprint for a better life. Knowing of other women’s achievements helps give me confidence that I can do something, too.

Confidence, however you get it, is priceless! I often wonder how someone gets the confidence to do things she has only imagined but has not seen in her own family or surroundings. I think it comes from just doing it, trying something new that we’ve dreamed of doing and it becomes an adventure. It feels great to break out of a box we’re in and see opportunities open up to us. Those opportunities are there for us, but only if we try.

The person who really illustrated this idea to me is Sarah Palin. How did she, in a very short time, go from being unknown to seizing the national stage and became a political star? Her strongest and compelling trait is her enthusiasm. She believes in her cause and is determined to go forward while ignoring her detractors. Perhaps her will is even strengthened by the opposition. She’s now drawing enormous crowds while more experienced and knowledgeable politicians fade into the background behind her.

Whether you like her or not is beside the point. We can all learn from Sarah Palin’s confidence and enthusiasm, and I hope we do. Learn from her what a determined woman can do.

So let’s give ourselves permission to find what excites us and just do it. We can reach for the sky. It’s there waiting for us!