Each year International Women’s Day energizes women and girls all over the world to celebrate and acknowledge the contributions of women globally. Together, we celebrate both the spirit and the essence of women wherever they may be, in whatever role they have taken. Based on our own experiences as women, each of us must align ourselves in solidarity with movements that signify a moment in our lives where we have overcome challenges despite the obstacles faced. For me, International Women’s Day represents the everyday successes that occur: when a mother delivers her baby safely in a health facility, the first day that little girl goes to school, and when she graduates from university. These moments of triumph are the result of the struggles of men and women who fought against the injustice of discrimination based on gender. I want to acknowledge these great achievements of women and girls not only on March 8, but each and every day.
While we celebrate the victories that women have achieved, we must also acknowledge that women are not a homogenous group. In their lifespan, the experiences faced by women vary significantly due to race, class, ethnicity, religion, and other factors that individualize us. The struggles faced by women world-wide are as distinctive and unique as the women confronting them. By globalizing women’s issues we must be careful not to dismiss these differences, and diminish the struggles and triumphs each woman has faced. Women who are in leadership positions must remember to represent the multitude of women without voices, to help highlight the issues that need to be discussed. This is difficult to accomplish when the agenda for the globalized debate on women’s issues centers on sound bites, which, while catchy, are not enough to explain these differences and bring about change. This ‘debate’ is a lifelong struggle that a woman bares from the day she is born to the day she dies.
Women leaders need to be the amplifier of those who are never heard. Narratives of specific heroes may not be necessary, but the everyday events and collective struggles that are often overlooked are:
- Women as mothers who quietly and patiently forgo their personal comforts to send their daughters to school
- Women as teachers who encourage girls to achieve and strive for more
- Women as frontline health workers who make sure that women have equal access to care
- Women as grandmothers who care for those who have lost their parents
- Women as peacemakers who bring rationality to the negotiating table
- Women as caretakers who make sure that food is on the table
The stories of all these women may seem similar, but each has its own distinct voice which must be articulated by those who truly represent them. The issues that these women face may be mundane but they occupy the existence of a majority of the world’s poorest women. Therefore we must make sure to represent their voices and articulate their concerns as women who perform many different roles at the same time. Therefore, International Women’s Day is about the celebration of women not only as women but as teachers, mothers, health workers, leaders, grandmothers, and any of the other multiple positions women occupy. While these roles might sound mundane, they are also a reality around which women will unite to bring about change for current and future generations of women.