Skip to main content
International Women’s Day: Celebrating and Remembering
International Women's Day, 12 March 1977. SMH Picture by DAVID BARTHO (Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

International Women’s Day: Celebrating and Remembering

Lela Gilbert

Has anyone wished you a happy International Women’s Day (IWD) today? If not, let me be the first!

Now, admittedly, IWD is not one of the most notable dates on America’s holiday calendar. When it comes to honoring women, Mother’s Day clearly holds the advantage, especially when it comes to greeting cards, bouquets and congratulatory brunches.

For one thing, pretty much everyone loves Mom. For another, International Women’s Day was introduced in rather unconventional circles. In fact, the holiday’s first declaration in 1909 came through the auspices of New York’s Socialist Party of America.

It is both puzzling and discouraging that some of today’s women’s activists remain silent about the plight of female populations in Muslim lands, even though accounts of injustices are widely available.

Then the movement migrated from New York to Moscow. There, on March 8, 1917, a “Bread and Peace” women’s strike was launched, rightfully protesting food shortages and the deaths of millions of Russian soldiers in the Great War.

Long story short, the women’s protest expanded into an enormous uprising, the Russian czar was forced to abdicate and thus was launched the USSR.

In its early days, the designation of March 8 as a special day for women was honored in regions that were not particularly attuned to American traditions. But the holiday has gradually taken root, blossoming into celebrations around the world.

Today, a century after its Muscovite beginning, hundreds of IWD events commemorating women – their concerns and accomplishments – are scheduled for March 8 in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and dozens of other countries.

Times have changed since women’s voting rights were the primary concern of female activists. Women have found their way into roles that were unimaginable 100 years ago. From abolitionists to astronauts, prime ministers to physicians, scientists to Supreme Court justices, women continue to change the course of history.

No longer is the “hand that rocks the cradle” the only womanly hand that rules the world.

A website devoted to International Women’s Day declares that it is now an official holiday in countries from A to Z – from Afghanistan to Zambia, where hard-fought battles on behalf of women have been won.

But despite the celebrations, women’s rights advocates haven’t really won the war. This is particularly so in parts of the Islamic world, where women suffer unimaginable indignities.

“A broad look at the circumstances of women in Muslim states reveals several general cultural patterns: a profound absence of equality with men; honor-based family ‘protection’ of women based on mistrust regarding their sexuality; widespread domestic violence; rape and murder. In many regions of the Islamic world, female genital mutilation … is pervasively practiced. So are kidnappings and forced marriages of young women, including prepubescent girls, to much older men.”

It is both puzzling and discouraging that some of today’s women’s activists remain silent about the plight of female populations in Muslim lands, even though accounts of injustices are widely available.

For example, the New York Times reported in October 2014 that conditions for women in Iran have continued to deteriorate.

“Ahmed Shaheed … special rapporteur on human rights in Iran … said he had been shocked by the execution … of Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, who was convicted of killing a man she had accused of raping her. The death sentence had prompted international outcry …”

Saudi Arabia, which notoriously forbids women to drive or even to venture outside their homes without a religiously approved male escort, organized a prestigious and well-attended Women’s Rights Conference in 2012. Astonishingly, not one woman appeared on the podium. Worse, photographs confirmed that no women were in the audience.

After the confab was soundly mocked in news blurbs and social media, the “official” Arab newspaper, Okaz, defensively claimed that two women actually did attend the conference.

And then there’s Pakistan – home of Malala Yousafzai, the inspiring, Nobel Prize-winning advocate for female education.

As I wrote last year, “At just 11-years-old, Malala became an international advocate of female education, writing her own blog and demanding schooling for girls in her Swat Valley community. In doing so, she faced off against the radical Islamist Taliban who had explicitly forbidden girls to read, write or think for themselves.

“Then, on October 9, 2012, Malala was rewarded for her tireless efforts with a Taliban bullet to the forehead….”

In Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other countries with similar religious constraints, the celebration of International Women’s Day has a bittersweet quality, owing to the despicable abuse of girls and women under Muslim religious authorities.

Still, we celebrate, thanks to innumerable unsung heroines — courageous champions of women’s rights.

As cheerful wishes for a “Happy International Women’s Day” are passed along on Facebook and Twitter, and as wonderful successes are toasted at celebratory events, we can sincerely applaud and be grateful.

But let’s also request a moment of silence to recall millions of girls and women across the globe who still suffer heartbreaking abuses.

Let’s resolve, on International Women’s Day, not to let the world forget them.

Related Articles

Believing Jews Control Everything is a Moral, Intellectual Deficiency

Walter Russell Mead

Walter Russell Mead appears on Jewish News Syndicate's "Top Story" to discuss antisemitic misconceptions in American politics. ...

Watch Now

Xi Tries to Ride a Real-Estate Tiger, and We All May Get Mauled

Thomas J. Duesterberg & David Asher

David Asher and Thomas Duesterberg discuss Xi Jinping's recent economic woes...

Continue Reading