In Sweet Company

 “Culture, religion, ethnicity are man-made social constructs that influence our lives, but we are more than these limited constructs. We are one humanity, the human race, and we have a responsibility to help each other regardless of what group we belong to. … If we act based on what we have in common with each other rather than on what’s different about us, we can really help one another.” — Zainab Salbi,  IN SWEET COMPANY: CONVERSATIONS WITH EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ABOUT LIVING A SPIRITUAL LIFE

Before before Twitter, before Facebook, before Google, and the World Wide Web, women raised our collective voices the old-fashioned way: We held meetings in our parlors and wrote letters by candlelight. We buttoned up our leather boots, donned feathered hats, assembled under street lamps and stood on wooden crates at dawn, then marched with placards through the center of our towns. In 1888, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Julia Ward Howe, and Sojourner Truth organized The National Council of Women. In 1908, 15,000 women marched through the streets of New York City demanding better pay, shorter working hours, and the right to vote. Two years later, 100 women from 17 countries made their way (sans jet travel)  to Copenhagen and approved the creation of the first International Women’s Day. During the Great War, women all over Europe held rallies to protest the war and proclaim their solidarity. As time and war and lives went on, we continued to lift our voices. By 1975, the United Nations began to hold yearly conferences to coordinate international efforts on behalf of women’s rights. Today, we gather in countries like Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Uganda in celebration and protest.

This year President Obama proclaimed March “Women’s History Month” and urged Americans to mark IWD by reflecting on “the extraordinary accomplishments of women” in shaping our country’s history. Last night Hillary Clinton launched the “100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchange.”  Women round the world are Tweeting and meeting. With more of us in better paying jobs, jobs that were once exclusively male dominated, with greater sexual and legislative freedom and increased social awareness of “women’s issues,” the tendency is to think our work is done.

Today, International Women’s Day 2011, I know two single mothers who are deathly afraid they will lose their jobs and be plunged into abject poverty. I know three women with cancer who are being told by their physicians they need to have their breasts removed or they will die. I know  two women who have been sexually harassed, a half dozen women who have been sexually assaulted. I know three extremely talented women over 65 who suffer the effects of ageism. Every professional woman I know is paid less than her male counterpart. I receive emails from at least twenty women’s organizations raising funds to help women recover from every form of mental, social, and political  violence human beings can engage in.  Is our work done?

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