Ordinary Women as Makers of History
International Women's Day (March 8) is the story of ordinary women as makers of history; it is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men. In ancient Greece, Lysistrata initiated a sexual strike against men in order to end war; during the French Revolution, Parisian women calling for "liberty, equality, fraternity" marched on Versailles to demand women's suffrage.
International Women's Day is an occasion marked by women's groups around the world. This date is also commemorated at the United Nations and is designated in many countries as a national holiday. When women on all continents, often divided by national boundaries and by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate their Day, they can look back to a tradition that represents at least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.
Women's Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women's movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women's conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point for coordinated efforts to demand women's rights and participation in the political and economic process.
Increasingly, International Women's Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of women's rights.
In today's workplace, we celebrate the significant contributions of women toward a more civilized work environment. It's because of women's courageous revolt against sexual harassment, violence in the workplace, discrimination, workaholic imbalance, aggressiveness and other abnormalities that were accepted as a normal way of doing business that we now have a better workplace for women and men alike.
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Why and How to Celebrate International Women's Day at Work
If your company doesn’t celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8) you may want to suggest to your HR department, training office, or employee communication office to do so. Here is a quick background of the IWD and how some leading corporations support it.
- In 1908, Women's oppression was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.
- 1911 saw women's 'Bread and Roses' campaign.
- 1913-1914 On the eve of World War I, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February 1913.
- In 1914 many women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express women's solidarity.
- 1917 On the last Sunday of February, Russian women began a strike for "bread and peace" in response to the death over 2 million Russian soldiers in war. Opposed by political leaders, the women continued to strike until four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. The date the women's strike commenced was Sunday 23 February on the Julian calendar then in use in Russia. This day on the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere was 8 March, which is the current day of celebration around the world.
- 1918 - 1999 For many years the United Nations has held an annual IWD conference to coordinate international efforts for women's rights and participation in social, political and economic processes.
- 1975 was designated 'International Women’s Year' by the United Nations.
- Women's organizations and governments around the world have also observed IWD annually on 8 March by holding large-scale events that honor women's advancement while diligently reminding us of the continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women's equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life.
- 2000 - 2007. The new millennium has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women's and society's thoughts about women's equality and emancipation. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women's education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men. However, great improvements have been made. We do have female astronauts and prime ministers, school girls are welcomed into university, women can work and have a family, women have real choices. And in 2008 Hilary Clinton has waged a serious campaign for the Office of the President of the United States. And so the tone and nature of IWD has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder of the negatives to a celebration of the positives.
Annually on 8 March, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate their achievements. Many initiatives connect women from all around the world ranging from political rallies, business conferences, and governmental activities and networking events through to local women's craft markets, theatric performances, poetry readings, fashion parades and more.
Many companies have started to actively support IWD by organizing internal or external events. For example, on 8 March Google usually changes its logo on its global search pages. Corporations like HSBC host the UK's largest and longest running IWD event delivered by women's company Aurora. In past years, Nortel sponsored IWD activities in over 20 countries and thousands of women participated. Accenture supports more than 2,000 of its employees to participate in its International Women's Day activities that include leadership development sessions, career workshops and corporate citizenship events held across six continents. Accenture also coordinated am IWD webcast featuring stories about Accenture women worldwide that ran uninterrupted for 30 hours across 11 time zones via Accenture's intranet. The United States designates the whole month of March as 'Women's History Month'.
So what are you going to do to join this international celebration? Why not form a team to brainstorm ways to support women at your workplace and around the world.
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Can One Person Change the World? Rosa Parks as a Model
If you ever doubted your capacity for making significant impact on your work, your organization, or even your world, just examine the impact that Rosa Parks had left on the world, with one simple, courageous act. She did not have special skills that no body else possessed. She did not necessarily know better than others. She did not have better education, or connections, or wealth. She seemed as simple and powerless as they come.
Yet it turned out that she was not powerless at all. It turned out that she, a simple individual, had all the power anyone can ever dream of having. That power is available to you too. It’s inside you, just looking for your decision to release it, as Rosa Parks did when she refused to give up her seat on the bus for a white man.
One of the amazing secrets of life is that changing the world is a power that lies in the hands of ordinary individuals, if only they realize and exercise that power. And you don’t have to go to the end of the world to do it. You can do it right where you are now. Perhaps where you work or where you live. Rosa Parks did it on the bus she was riding. By her simple yet powerful act of defiance, courage, and moral dignity, she inspired the civil rights movement in the United States, and many similar struggles around the world.
Ask yourself: What did Rosa Parks had that I don’t have? Ask yourself: In what ways can I change the world by starting where I’m now?
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