March 8 marked the forty-fourth celebration of International Women’s Day. Though the origins of the day can be traced far back into the early 1900s, it was during the International Women’s Year of 1975 that it was deemed an annual day of celebration by the United Nations. It is meant to celebrate the accomplishments of women of all backgrounds and identities, while also serving as a “rallying point” for the global support of women’s rights.
The main issue with International Women’s Day is that some see it as a tactic to further advance the position of women in Westernized culture (namely, privileged white women). In interviews with women who do not identify as feminists, The Independent spoke with women who cited this belief as their reasoning for not identifying with feminism. Ellen Grace Jones, an interviewee, said that feminists today are “hyper-offended” and “self-serving” individuals whose focus is “furthering their own (actually rather privileged) agenda.”
“Case-in-point: the International Women’s Day schedule is almost all career-enhancing, work-centric conferences and events for the benefit and advancement of Western women,“ Jones told The Independent.
To some extent, I agree with Jones. Feminism has (and sometimes still does) take the shape of a movement primarily focused on making life better for already privileged, heterosexual white women. Feminist icon Audre Lorde wrote about the issue in her essay Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference, in which she stated that through the women’s movement white women tend to “focus on their oppression as women and ignore differences of race, sexual preference, class, and age.” However, celebrations of International Women’s Day also provide the chance to bridge that divide.
At the University of Oregon, such a celebration took place on March 6 in the Erb Memorial Union. The university’s Women’s Center hosted the event (as they do annually), calling it an “International Womxn’s Day” celebration. The use of the “X” in the title served as an element of inclusion for attendees who identify within the LBGTQ+ community, particularly gender-non conforming individuals.
“The reason that we do the women with an “X” is because we want to recognize women that are also non-gender binary and non-binary conforming,” said sophomore Danielle Elbaz, Public Relations Coordinator at the Women’s Center. “We want to be as inclusive as possible.”
Women of various cultures and ethnicities were also heavily included in the event. The food prepared by Alma Catering, an all women-of-color kitchen in Eugene, featured dishes meant to represent women from around the world. Places represented included the Mediterranean, Latin America, India and the American deep South. Dance performances by groups like the Eugene Bhangra showcased dance styles from both India and Peru.
A part of the celebration that was particularly moving was the readings of poetry performed by international students from South Africa and Uzbekistan. Jenn Smallwood and Filadelphia Tadjibaeva both read poems by well-known women who were from their nations of origin. Tadjibaeva of Uzbekistan read a poem by feminist poet Halima Xudoyberdiyeva, who was known as the People’s Poet of Uzbekistan. Tadjibaeva read the poem in Uzbek, her nation’s language.
The event held at UO celebrated International Women’s Day in the way it was meant to be celebrated. It acknowledged the accomplishments of women from all backgrounds, while also reflecting on the struggles some have encountered to make their voices heard.
“This is what this is about,” said Women’s Center Director Fatima Roohi Pervaiz, who spoke at the event. “Healing, resilience and love.”
Not all celebrations of International Women’s Day have been as inclusive, but that is exactly why it needs to be continually commemorated. It is meant to celebrate women globally who have fought for their rights and have received little recognition for doing so. As someone who identifies as a feminist, I believe feminism is about more than fighting for your own seat at the table. It is about making sure that women of all nationalities, races, sexual orientations, and identities can find theirs too.
By celebrating International Women’s Day, we are presented with the opportunity to connect with others on an empathetic level and learn from their experiences. With the knowledge we share, we can strive to create a more inclusive environment for women everywhere.