What does International Women’s Day mean to me?
I always look forward to International Women’s Day (IWD) as it is celebrated differently in form and structure worldwide. In the Philippines, where I am from, I cannot remember any celebration that I have been part of. I am sure there is an IWD celebration somewhere, but it is mostly celebrated by women’s right activist groups — not by ordinary people or companies. This is likely because men and women treat one another equally. I grew up knowing that there is no difference between us – all of us can go to school, all of us have access to information and opportunities.
My first international development exposure to IWD was in Bosnia. I was really surprised how they celebrate it — March 8 has more grandeur than Valentine’s Day. All men buy flowers, not only for their partners, but also for their daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, colleagues, and friends. It was so heartwarming to see fathers come to our office to bring flowers to their daughters or brothers to bring flowers to their sisters. I was equally happy and surprised that my house was full of flowers from my colleagues. Not only that, I remembered our company provided each female staff member with a $10 budget for our personal use. We pooled the money and used it to buy snacks we shared with our colleagues.
My next country postings led me to more conservative countries where people more often marginalize women. In these countries, NGOs celebrate it as part of their advocacy for equal gender rights. In Afghanistan, we used that day to recognize hardworking women in our project. All of the women-farmers in Afghanistan always looked forward to this day, where they were being recognized for the work they do.
In Ghana, we celebrate the day with our partners from Ministry of Gender in the Regional and Districts levels. They also used this day to advocate for equal gender rights and award exceptional strong and committed women. Development workers send their greetings to their colleagues, but I am not sure if husbands give the same greetings to their wives, mothers or sisters.
I am happy that people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day. Having worked in the field of women’s economic empowerment, I am hopeful that people will celebrate IWD like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, where women have a day to greet and give tribute to our loved ones and mothers. My hope is to see IWD as the day that everyone pays tribute to the women in the families, communities and at work. It will be a day where I will say that women are really recognized as valued members of society!