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Women of the World

It has been over 100 years since its inception and International Women’s Day is now a stalwart feature of the global calendar, providing for celebration, networking and social action.

Now in its 101st year, International Women’s Day has become an important day in the calendar of many women around the world. Whether from a political perspective or just for the purpose of networking, IWD has done wonders for the female population on a global scale.

On March 8 this year, women will again be taking part in a wide range of events — from tea parties, craft markets, fashion parades to theatrical performances and marches, political rallies and conferences.

The day was first celebrated on March 19 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. Today, as the annual event rolls round, these countries have begun to treat it as a celebration just like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day — men give presents to the women in their lives. In London, the Bird’s Eye Film festival, which celebrates and supports international women filmmakers, will open on March 8 and for 10 days will showcase films, documentaries and silent films made by women.

Although The United Nations, which has celebrated International Women’s Day since 1975, has decided on a particular theme for 2012 — empowering rural women to end hunger and poverty — in reality, every country has begun to choose a focal area that they feel best represents the plight of women in the modern day world.

Egypt
For the women in certain countries, for example, in the wake of recent protests, rebellions and changes in regime, there will be an important political focus. In Egypt a conference is being organised by the Egyptian Women’s Union on the eve of International Women’s Day that will bring together women from across the country in the hope that they can agree on a shared agenda for the coming months. There is also a march planned in Cairo on March 8, during which more than 80 different women’s groups and organisations will walk to the city’s Tahrir Square. “It is very important that we are united,” said Nawal El Saadawi, a prominent Egyptian writer who describes herself as the “godmother” of the EWU. Her hope is that, after International Women’s Day, Egyptian women — and the men who are members of the Union — will have agreed a way forward that includes a new body to replace the existing military council.  “We want women to make up 50 per cent of any council or committee or group,” said El Saadawi. “Women should be 50 per cent of any decision making body and we need a constitution that says, frankly, that women are equal.”

Haiti
In Haiti, women are planning events that will highlight the difficulties they still face two years after an earthquake left more than 230,000 people dead and an estimated 1,000,000 homeless. “While the January 2010 earthquake seems like history to some, the women of Haiti still have urgent needs that grew out of the aftermath. Violence, cholera, and trauma abound. Our legal justice centres and safe houses are meeting critical needs, and filling in the gaps where the government has yet to reach,” said Elvire Eugene, Founder Of Association Femmes Soleil d’ Haiti (Afasda). On International Women’s Day last year, women marched in the capital Port au Prince holding banners that declared; “Women will rebuild Haiti”. Women will be marching again this year to highlight the problems of sexual violence that the female population faces in the displacement camps that hundreds of thousands of people are still living in.

Zambia
In Zambia, women and girls will take part in a national sports day organised by the National Organisation for Women in Sport Physical Activity and Recreation (NOWSPAR). As well as organising and taking part in a variety of sports activities, women will also be holding events including BBQs and lunches — and asking their guests to bring along sports equipment or books about sport for the organisation’s sports programmes for girls in disadvantaged communities.

How you can help too
With the widespread use of social media today, women around the world can now get involved with campaigns aimed at helping and supporting women on the other side of the globe. Now recognised by the global search engine Google, which changes the logo on its global search pages on March 8, International Women’s Day has become an opportunity for women around the world to join together over shared aims.

V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls, raises funds and awareness through benefit productions of playwright and founder Eve Ensler’s award winning play The Vagina Monologues and other artistic works. So far there are 40 V-Day events registered all over the world, including in the US, England, France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, and Canada, which will raise funds for local organisations that focus on ending violence against women and girls.

Women for Women International
As an NGO which works with women living in conflict zones, Women for Women International (WfWI) will be heavily involved in this year’s IWD activities. Last year, thanks to WfWI, 75,000 women met on bridges and took part in events across 70 countries from Iraq and Afghanistan to Kosovo and Rwanda to highlight the need for women in Afghanistan to be included in future peace talks.

The WfWI Join Me on the Bridge campaign — which is based on the premise of women building bridges of peace between divided nations — will resume again this March 2012.  As Kate Nustedt, the UK director expresses, “That is the power of this movement. Women are still acting locally, where it’s about them having a good life for themselves and for their children, but they are also connecting globally, which gives them more strength and will motivate and inspire them.”

After last year’s focus on the need for women to be included in the peace talks, the bridge campaign will this year focus on the need for women in every country to be represented.  “In Afghanistan it’s to do with the peace council, but in DR Congo there are hardly any women represented in local government bodies throughout the country,” says Nustedt. “We are not going to change things overnight. But, this is effectively the first year of a new century for women and International Women’s Day gives us a focus, something to aim for and look forward to, as we make equal representation our goal over the next decades.”  

With bridge events happening in over 70 countries, including Canada, America, New Zealand, Holland, England, Rwanda and beyond, you can be certain that there will be some way you can get involved. Even if you don’t find yourself involved in any kind of political activism, just remember that March 8 is one of the many days that you should be celebrating and enjoying the women in your life!

For more information about the Join Me on the Bridge Campaign, visit www.womenforwomen.org

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