Mills College honored International Women’s Day on March 8 by sponsoring a panel discussion with the East Bay chapter of the United Nations Association. Although the event was held in Carnegie Hall on Saturday afternoon, many students at Mills did not know of the global day for women.
The event, titled “Moving Women’s Global Agenda Forward,” included a keynote speech by Emily Murase, the executive director of the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women.
In addition to the panel, Mills hosted a multicultural tea and concert with a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and music from Pakistan and Japan.
Some Mills students were unaware that an International Women’s Day existed. “I have definitely never heard of it,” said Kara Beilas, a sophomore.
Many women had similar responses. “It seems like we should [know about it] since we are a women’s school,” said graduate student Sophie Sills.
In fact, International Women’s Day has been around for nearly a century. Members of the Socialist Party of America observed the first International Women’s Day on Feb. 28, 1909, long before the United Nations began observing the day in 1975. According to www.internationalwomensday.com, the day is designed to honor women’s hard-won progress while being a reminder of the “continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life.”
The holiday emerged in the context of mass mobilizations of women at the turn of the 20th Century. In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding suffrage and better working conditions and on March 8, 1917, Russian women led a four-day strike for “bread and peace” in St. Petersburg in response to the death of two million Russians in World War I; many more demonstrations around the world contributed to the International Women’s Day movement.
In Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, the day is a national holiday and women receive flowers and gifts from family members. The IWD Web site listed rallies and cultural events in 50 different countries that celebrated the day for women.
Still, for many in the United States, March 8 is just “the day after March 7,” as Michelle Buchman, a library specialist at Mills, put it.
“I wasn’t here for the last International Women’s Day so that’s my excuse,” she said. Buchman said she would remember next year.
Junior Katherine Kugay had never heard of International Women’s Day either but said she thought having a specific day for women made a lot of sense. “With a full month, it’s easy not to think about it at all but with just one well-publicized day, people are more likely to reflect on it.”
The Women’s Open-Minded Empowerment Network, a feminist club on campus, is offering the Mills community a chance to reflect on women’s progress through its film series showing at Danforth Hall.
North Country will screen March 17 and Lilja 4-ever and Sisters and Daughters Betrayed will show March 31. Both screenings begin at 6 p.m.