Women’s History Month: Our History is Our Strength

Posted by: Leah Antil, Public Affairs Section Intern

March is Women’s History Month, which honors the achievements of women throughout history. It is a chance for people all over the world to recognize female role models by drawing on their tenacity, courage, and creativity as sources of strength in the extraordinary challenges that face the world today.

In the United States, Women’s History Month began with the official recognition of March 8th as International Women’s Day in the mid 1970s. In 1981, groups united by the National Women’s History Project lobbied U.S. Congress to declare a ‘National Women’s History Week’ that included March 8th. By 1987, through presidential decree, the week became Women’s History Month, and Congress has issued a resolution for the month every year. This year, the Obama Administration released a report highlighting 50 years of progress.

International Women’s Day has a 100-year history of celebrating women throughout the world. It was originally established in 1911 and celebrated Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, and Germany, when over a million people rallied for women’s rights to vocational training and work, as well as to end job discrimination based on gender. Now, a century later, March 8th is a day to advocate for political and social awareness of women’s struggles worldwide. 

Since 1975, when March 8th was made the official day to observe International Women’s Day by the General Assembly of the United Nations, each year has had a general theme. This year’s theme is Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women. Past themes have included: World free of violence against women (1999), Women and HIV/AIDS (2004), and Investing in women and girls (2008).

In December 1977 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions. The resolution outlined two primary reasons: to recognize that securing peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms requires the active participation, equality and development of women; and to acknowledge the contribution of women to the strengthening of international peace and security.

Ukraine is one of 27 countries that recognize International Women’s Day as an official holiday. We asked Kyiv resident Tetyana Podobinska-Shtyk for her thoughts about the meaning of International Women’s Day.

“[When] Women’s Day is just around the corner, that definitely makes my days before it. The expectation is always better than the holiday itself, though I like the holiday a lot. In order to feel this holiday one needs to be female and live in Ukraine. If there is some debate about a male equivalent of the holiday – Ukrainian Army Day or Day of Defender, nobody even questions the status of the 8th of March.

“I have to confess that I missed that holiday a lot while living abroad. In Ukraine on the 8th of March every woman feels special. Early in the morning you will not see many people on the streets. It is a day off and people are at home. Women are enjoying sleeping and men are going crazy about making their women happy. All year long most of Ukrainian women spoil their men and let themselves be treated disrespectfully. The 8th of March is the day when women are loved, taken care of, and thought about. It might sound selfish, but I think Ukrainian women deserve this holiday. It would be better if that attitude that Ukrainian men have on the 8th of March would last the entire year, but so far we have at least a day.”

In the U.S., though not considered an official holiday, thousands of events are sponsored throughout the country

Melanne Verveer, U.S. Department of State Ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, meets with Ukrainian women, Dec. 2010

Since his election in 2009, President Barack Obama has created a position at the White House to advise the president and vice president on domestic violence and sexual assault issues in the United States and a new position in the U.S. Department of State for an  ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues. The first appointee, Melanne Verveer, is also the highest ranking Ukrainian American in the U.S. government. In addition, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has launched the “100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges” and a new maternal- and child-health initiative. Read more at America.gov.

During Women’s History Month, it is important to honor just how far women have come in their struggle for equality, peace and development in the face of numerous economic, social, and political challenges. This month and International Women’s Day have become a platform of unity, networking, and mobilization for meaningful change.


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