It was exactly a hundred years ago that Clara Zetkin, leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party of Germany, tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. The occasion was the Second International Conference of Working Women and the venue was Copenhagen.
A lot has changed since then yet much remains the same. Women’s suffrage is almost universal, women are a significant part of the paid labour force and female astronauts, prime ministers and Nobel laureates are no longer unusual. Women have always excelled in the arts and letters, not surprisingly considering that the Greek muses were female, although they have sometimes been forced to hide behind male pseudonyms. Not anymore. Yet today 70% of women in the world live below the poverty line, about 90 million girls are still denied access to primary education and 2/3 of illiterate adults are women. The fall of the Berlin Wall led to a fall in hard-won maternity, health and education benefits for women in former Soviet Block countries.
Modern day religious extremism has heightened legal and social restrictions on women and even in countries like Sri Lanka with a strong matrilineal tradition there has been a push towards genital mutilation by Islamic groups – a practice which is neither Islamic nor Sri Lankan. The United Nations Population Fund was denied $34 million in US Congressional allotments as part of a gag-rule against institutions that provide abortion. In countries where women have earned the right to work outside the home, they continue to shoulder the main burden for child-care and house work.
So it is clear that there is still plenty of room for change in society and that women will have to continue doing most of the changing as they have done in the past. When women empower themselves or are empowered by society, healthy change thrives. This simple fact was recognized by Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh who started granting micro credit to women in villages with astounding results. Likewise, when food distribution was placed in the hands of women in Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating January earthquake, food got to the needy instead of the pockets of speculators and hoarders.
In conflict situations like Ireland and Israel/Palestine it has been women from both side of the divide who have spearheaded peace movements. In Argentina the Plaza de Mayo mothers were able to uncover the veil of deceit surrounding the desaparecidos in their country. The list of examples of women as agents of change is endless.
This issue, devoted to women changing the world, is but a mere sampling of the historical achievements of women. Yet it has turned out to be the biggest fattest issue in www.montrealserai’s history, which proves that the women’s movement is neither anorexic nor dying, as some feared. We welcome further contributions from our readers, women and men, not only to this issue’s theme (which we will continue to publish for the next three months) but most importantly, to a world issue that affects the future of our species.
Since there has been a very enthusiastic response to this theme,
another 5 articles on the same theme will be uploaded on April 30 and May 30, 2010.