For International Woman’s Day, 8 March this year, I asked a number of our Gender and Social Equity Focal Persons how they perceive the day, and what, if anything, is done to celebrate it in our offices. My thanks to Merita Barileva, Ximena Aramayo, Inês Domingos, Srijana Shrestha and Hien Le in Bolivia, Kosovo, Mozambique, Nepal, and Vietnam, respectively.
A day for political rallying or a day for the florists?
Although the celebration of an International Women’s Day started as a socialist political event raising awareness on women’s human rights, this is not necessarily uppermost in the minds of our staff today. Indeed, most focal persons commented on how the offering of pleasant words and flowers by male to female colleagues, and husbands to wives, has become the expected norm. A number ventured what a good profit this provides to florists!
In Kosovo, “Some of our colleagues are very kind and they buy flowers for women colleagues. Personally I think it is a bit waste of time to invest a lot of time to organise something because every day should be women’s day.”
Nevertheless, in most of our offices there is some sort of celebration. In Nepal this has become formalised in recent years into quite an event, with a different project each year having responsibility to organise activities.
Two women’s day per year
In fact, many countries have their own national day celebrating women – often considered of greater significance than the international day. In Bolivia, “National women’s day on 11 October was introduced to commemorate the birth of the poet, teacher and writer Adela Zamudio (1854-1928), one of the first women who fought for gender equality in the 19th century. Women get half a day free, mainly in the public sector. The national day was created in 1980 by the only woman president Bolivia has had up to now, Lidia Gueiler.”
In Mozambique national women’s day is 7 April, marking the death of a prominent woman member of the FRELIMO party, who was engaged in Mozambique’s independence struggle. Josina Machel was only 25 when she died in 1971. “Like international woman’s day, the date in an occasion for speeches about women’s contribution to society, and for placing flowers at memorials to national heroes. Afterwards, each organising group goes for lunch together. Over the whole period March – April the media hold various discussions around women’s political, economic and social empowerment. Events on issues affecting women are also organised by civil society.”
In Nepal, there is a Hindu festival for women linked to the lunar calendar, falling in August/September. Teej is celebrated over three days with dancing, fasting and ceremonial bathing by women. The essential idea is for women to pray for their husbands, although Srijana points out that it is often a joyous occasion for women, when “they are fully allowed to go their parent’s home, meet their family and childhood friends, and express their feelings of discrimination by their husband, mother in law, and sisters in law through songs and dancing… The traditional songs of Teej show the discrimination and suppression of women under the patriarchal system.” Yet she also notes that, “Gradually, Nepali politics has captured Teej events and made it political in rural and urban areas, with songs of a political flavour; men’s participation in Teej has increased for this purpose.”
Vietnamese Women’s Day falls on 20 October, and commemorates the establishment of the Vietnamese Women’s Union. As on 8 March, men are supposed to give women gifts and flowers, and to help in domestic chores. “If this encourages men to share more of the family’s obligations and give opportunities for women development, then it is worth celebrating.”
A holiday or not?
Each of our country offices fixes their holiday dates in accordance with local festivals. As far as I know, only our Nepal office counts International Woman’s Day as a holiday (after it has been celebrated) – and then only for women staff! In fact it seems that women staff have two extra annual days’ leave than men, as they can also take one day for Teej….
As for us in Switzerland, we could reflect more on the original purpose of the day: of campaigning for women’s rights. Indeed, given that Switzerland was amongst the handful of countries that marked the very first international woman’s day (then on 19 March) back in 1911, together with Austria, Denmark and Germany, there is a history to follow.