International Women’s Day: Today We Honor Women Working for Change

Carleen and Mom Helen (front left) meet with teachers in Afghanistan

Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, first celebrated in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland in 1911, to recognize the social, political and economic achievements of women in the past and present.

The self titled “Global hub of International Women’s Day events and information” lists thousands of events around the planet, 200 in the US alone, to celebrate and honor the achievements and struggles of women around the world.

I first felt the importance and solidarity of celebrating International Women’s Day while visiting Afghanistan with my mother on a Women Making Change Global Exchange Reality Tour in 2005. For 10 days we traveled in and around Kabul, visiting schools for girls, women’s organizations, women’s small business cooperatives and councils, doctors active in female health educations, advocacy organizations and government agencies working to protect women’s rights in Afghanistan after the Taliban rule.

At that time in Afghanistan, there was a feeling of hope and genuine sense that progress was being among those we met with. It was a truly unique experience to share International Women’s Day with incredible mothers, daughters, grandmothers, leaders and heroines. Stories of enormous personal tragedy were shared with emotion and outrage, but often with a sense of courage and struggle within the movement for global women’s rights. It was also an incredible gift to share this experience with a woman who inspires me every day, my mother.

Annually at Global Exchange, we celebrate the achievements of international and domestic human rights leaders and honor those effecting social justice in the world at a Human Rights Awards event. Today, as we prepare for the 2011 Human Rights Awards on June 1, we reflect on some past women honorees:

  • Mu Sochua MP, a Parliamentarian of the opposition party Sam Rainsy Party, Sochua has fought tirelessly for human rights and women’s rights in Cambodia.
  • Samina Faheem Sundas, who founded American Muslim Voice in response to the fear and hatred expressed toward Muslims in the wake of 9/11.
  • Alice Walker– Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, poet, teacher and activist, is internationally acclaimed for her vivid depictions of black women’s struggles against sexism, racism and poverty.
  • Cindy Sheehan and Gold Star Families for Peace– Channeling their grief into action, Cindy Sheehan and Gold Star Families for Peace have galvanized the anti-war movement, demanding answers from Bush about the legitimacy of the war.
  • Diane Wilson – Texas shrimper who founded unReasonable Women and has fought for peace and environmental justice
  • Kathy Kelly – Founder of Voices in the Wilderness, which sought to end the Iraq embargo and save Iraqi children.
  • Arundhati Roy – Author and outspoken peace activist from India.
  • Barbara Lee – Courageous congresswoman who voted against the war in Afghanistan.
  • Bianca Jagger – Long time peace activist who travels widely to shine a light on unjust conditions.
  • Claudia Smith – Founder of California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, she is a tireless advocate for immigrants at the border between the US and Mexico
  • Digna Ochoa y Placido -– was a human rights attorney who gave her life defending peasant farmers in Mexico.

I’ve always been skeptical about annual ‘one day’ celebrations, but after my Reality Tour experience in Afghanistan, I started taking time each International Women’s Day to acknowledge women past and present who work to ensure that women live better lives. History is important.

Make a mark today and nominate your human rights hero to Global Exchange’s 2011 People Choice Award. Nominations are open and details are here. Winners will be announced at the Human Rights Awards on June 1.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I’ll be joining others at 4:30pm at 16th and Mission Street in San Francisco  today on a march to End Poverty, Criminalization, War and Occupation.

What are you doing to celebrate International Women’s Day? Feel free to share your plans and experiences in the Comments section.

To bread and roses, take action and Happy International Women’s Day!