International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day. It has been observed for more than a century since it began in the United States in 1909. The observance went international in 1911 and the date was moved to March 8 in 1913, where it remains today. 

The United Nations first celebrated International Women’s Day as an official holiday in 1975 and started the tradition of an annual theme in 1996.The day recognizes the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women globally, and it’s a call to action for gender parity.

This year, there are two themes. The first, by the International Women’s Day organization, is #ChooseToChallenge. Their website explains “A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. So let’s all choose to challenge.”

It also asks: “How will you help forge a gender equal world? Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.”

The other theme was chosen by the United Nations as we mark one-year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” “Women stand at the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, as health care workers, caregivers, innovators, community organizers and as some of the most exemplary and effective national leaders in combating the pandemic. The crisis has highlighted both the centrality of their contributions and the disproportionate burdens that women carry.”

Today in the Deseret News, I have an opinion piece on today’s #ChooseToChallenge theme – challenge inequities, challenge bias, challenge assumptions, challenge stereotypes, challenge the status quo, challenge the gender pay gap and challenge sexism, both hostile and benevolent. There are probably as many ways to #ChooseToChallenge as their are people on the planet, but I suggest three ways we can challenge ourselves, especially as women. First, we can choose to challenge our own silence. Speak up. Be like Elsa from Frozen 2 and “step into our power.” Second, challenge our doubts, including our imposter syndrome and third, challenge our fear. Feel the fear and do it anyway. When we do the work to elevate women and their voices, to work toward equity, inclusion and respect, we all benefit. This is not a zero-sum game.

As part of the global initiative celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson will participate in a town hall hosted by the World Trade Center, the Salt Lake Chamber and the Women’s Business Center of Utah later this morning. She is calling on Utahns to commit to women’s equality and opportunity and join her in the #ChoosetoChallenge initiative. The event begins at 11 am and you can participate for no cost by registering here.

Salt Lake County has released a list of events celebrating Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, including a “Women of the World” fashion show, a panel discussion on the Woman’s Exponent, a research presentation on “When Women Don’t Speak: What It Takes for Women to be Heard” and a summit on the First Female Recession Impact. For details on these and other events, check out their website.

The University of Utah is celebrating Women’s Week beginning today and offers events focused on their theme of “Inspiring a Movement.” Events will” reflect on the history of women’s political leadership, celebrate women’s contributions to our communities, honor those who have come before us, endeavor to create community and belonging, and facilitate a collective call to action to make the changes that are needed to enact an equitable future.” They include today’s lunchtime keynote by Amber Ruffin, two events focused on running for political office, a leadership summit and workshops focused on health. For these events and more, go to their website.

Finally, to wrap up today’s focus on women, I want to share part of an article that deals with matriarchs – but not the human kind. Killer whales, as it turns out, have societal relationships where post-menopausal female whales become pod leaders with valuable survival skills. As scientists observed 35 years of killer whale behavior, they realized that the oldest females in the group, the ones past whale child-bearing years, typically swam at the front of the pod and set the direction for the group. It was behavior that was especially important when food supplies ran low, as these experienced matriarchs with years of hunting experience knew where to find food. “”One way post-reproductive females may boost the survival of their kin is through the transfer of ecological knowledge,” says Lauren Brent of the University of Exeter. “The value gained from the wisdom of elders can help explain why female killer whales and humans continue to live long after they have stopped reproducing…With her offspring sticking around, killer whales enjoy perhaps even greater opportunities than human mothers to invest in their offspring’s welfare through a variety of social and biological means. Some of the behaviors she displays, such as food sharing and social guidance, have also been documented among menopausal women in hunter-gatherer groups.” Cool. (Smithsonian Magazine)