Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. Inter-what for who? ask the Americans. Before going to work for Zonta Foundation (dedicated to the advancing the status of women everywhere) a few years ago, I had never heard of this day either. But now I come to find out that in other countries, particularly African countries, it's an actual 'things are closed, no school today' holiday!

At UPEACE we are celebrating the day by wearing red (men and women alike), women are wearing red flowers in their hair and there's an amazing display of art by women in the Atrium. Coincidentally, it's also LGBT Week here at UPEACE (the first one ever!) so there was a fascinating Brown Bag Lunch about the 'origins' of homosexuality. It was one of the most well attended Brown Bags I've seen and I was glad to see some students that I know are challenged by homosexuality in the audience. Some of our students come from countries where homosexuality is illegal and where, in some cases, the death penalty has been suggested as a punishment. In the Q&A session afterwards one student spoke at length about his perspective and his belief that homosexuality is something one is 'indoctrinated' into and not part of God's intent. Afterward I saw this student talking with the guest lecturer, who had identified himself as gay and had made a very cogent presentation about misperceptions and misinterpretations of, for example, the Biblical texts most often offered as proof of God's condemnation of homosexuality. The thing that struck me was that the two were laughing as they spoke and shook hands as they parted. Neither one had changed the other's mind but at the very least, they had a conversation and on the surface at least, were engaging with each other as human beings. I wish I were aware of more conversations like that happening in the US.

But back to International Women's Day. After my recent service with UN Women at UPMUNC, I'm more sensitive than usual to both the accomplishments of women around the world and the far distance we still have to travel towards equity and equality. And I mean in the US as well. For one of my recent classes we watched a documentary about how the media participated in the Bush administrations push for war in Iraq after 9/11. Every single one of the reporters that was interviewed was a white man. Every politician they showed- with the exception of Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell- was a white man. Every expert in the field of intelligence, terrorism, etc.- a white man. As far as we have come, its still possible to study a major US event in relation to 2 powerful institutions (government and media) and not even mention more than 2 women (Judith Miller got some coverage but declined to be interviewed). Sigh.

Happy International Women's Day everyone! Be inclusive! Hug a feminist!

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