Happy International Women's Day?

Despite the statistical doom and gloom, there is much to celebrate today

By Kristy Woudstra
Happy International Women's Day?

For 11 years, International Women's Day was highlighted on my calendar. Before coming to, I  worked for international humanitarian and environmental organizations and this day was always marked in a special way.

Now that I'm in the "real" world, I am fascinated to see how this day registers among those of us who don't live and breathe the nonprofit world 24/7.

To me it's kind of confusing. I see people saying "Happy International Women's Day" on Facebook to all the amazing women in their lives. It's trending on Twitter. iVillage did an awesome gallery of "Women We Love." Mashable did a roundup of web resources. Google did its Doodle.

But when I do a quick scan of the news items, the words "limits", "denied", "harrassment", "confined", "underrepresented" and "poverty" come up time and again. This directly conflicts with "celebrating" or "happy" International Women's Day. So which is it?

Yes, we women have come a long way and we have a long way to go, especially in so-called developing countries. If you haven't read, Nicholas Kristof's book "Half the Sky", I strongly recommend it. It's a sobering, insightful read about the plight of women around the world.

But this isn't how I choose to mark today. I used to spend much of the year thinking about the obstacles women are up against and the systems that stand in their way. So today, as I have for years, I think of all the women and mothers I've met in Niger, Uganda, Malaysia, Brazil and Mexico. I think of their strength and their resilience. I think of their kindness. Because when I think of them, I am humbled to my core. They are the women I admire.


I don't often tell this story because it is one of the most poignant, life-changing moments of my life. It happened during my first international trip. I went to Niger in West Africa to cover the issue of maternal mortality (Niger continues to have one of the highest rates of women dying in childbirth).

On one of my first trips out to the villages, a throng of jubilant, singing women greeted us. Their voices and dancing were so beautiful and joyous. I felt drawn into the crowd. It was magical. One woman was drumming on a wooden bowl, turned upside down in water in another bowl. The sound was incredible.

As I walked through the women, they kept grabbing and clasping my hands. I had no idea what was going on, but I just tried to soak in every minute.

After I'd walked through the group, the translator pulled me aside and asked me if I knew why the women were touching my hands. I shook my head. "Because they want you to know how hard they work," he said.

Choked up, I looked away. Who was I to judge how hard they worked? Who was I to decide if they were "worthy" or "unworthy" of a hand up? Who was I for them to thank? Who was I?


These are the women I dedicated a chunk of my career to. These are the women who deserve change, equality and access. These are the women I celebrate today.

This article was originally published on Mar 08, 2012

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