March 8th is International Women’s Day and is observed as a national holiday in many countries around the world. I want to share some of my thoughts with you on this special day. I feel strongly that women are central to creating a culture that will make, create and facilitate policies and actions that successfully build a livable and hopeful world for us and our children; as we live climate change together.
First though, a little background that you can share with the kids in your life on the history of International Women’s Day. The day was first “established” in the early 1900’s as an opportunity to unite women in the campaign for women’s rights to work, vote, and be trained to hold public office and to end discrimination. For so many reasons, particularly in this day and age of #metoo, we clearly must continue to mark the importance of this day for the same reasons – we are obviously not there yet. Also, this day is a marker to acknowledge and celebrate women who have taken a stand and are doing so now, for women’s rights and voices to be heard and upheld. In many countries, and in our own country, women still are not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally and in the USA, women’s education and health often are not supported adequately or equally. Violence against women in a myriad of forms continues to be perpetrated too often and regularly without penalty.
Today, I see and feel a part of a real movement building among women across many networks and from a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs. This is a movement built on the difficult and mounting challenges that climate change, corporate power, ineffective government and greed are placing on us and our planet. While this movement is not yet clearly defined, it is taking shape and has many tentacles. This is a movement that is built upon the belief in a bright future for our children based on clean energy, access to abundant food, clean air, potable water and social justice for ourselves, our families and for the world community. Every day I feel excited, exhilarated and passionate – and I have to admit, I am scared as well. I am part of this movement and I strongly believe that women will be the change agents we need to move us forward successfully. The 2018 mid-term elections in the US will be a telling point as we see the power of women surge at the ballot boxes and as we too run in large numbers as candidates for elected office.
One woman who inspired me early in my career was Bella Abzug, a congresswoman from New York. She had her own flair and style, always wearing a special hat, her “signature” that set her apart. I met her in 1995 in Beijing, China, at the 4th World Conference on Women. I was very fortunate to spend some quality time, one on one with her, on various occasions over the two weeks of the conference, where we were a million miles away figuratively and literally from our respective homes in New York City.
One moment in particular sticks in my mind to this day. While waiting in an almost empty make shift “conference room” for the start of a panel discussion, she sat down next to me, looked me in the eyes and asked me about myself, my hopes, my dreams, and how it was, that I came to be in Beijing, representing the International Monetary Fund? She shared with me some personal insights about how she had “gotten to where she was currently at in life” at that moment. She told me that in her mind and from her experience, women could do anything they choose, they just couldn’t and shouldn’t pretend to themselves or others that they could do it all at the same time!
She shared a little bit about her experience and thoughts about raising children, going to college, finding her passion and how she came to establish WEDO, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization. She was a trend setter, a visionary and a powerhouse to be reckoned with. At that time I was recently engaged, had no children yet and would soon face many personal and professional challenges that were made that much more difficult for me, I feel, because I am a woman. The short time I spent with her and her wise counsel has stayed with me and continues to give me strength and fortitude to this day.
Take some time this week and next to celebrate women who are important in your life; women who you are related to and who are your friends. Also celebrate those women who you may admire from afar; those alive and with us, as well as those who live in our memories but no longer on our planet. Grab the kids in your life and explain to them that women’s rights and equality are not a given. In many, many countries, and in many communities and families, even those ones that may be just “down the street,” a woman’s rights are challenged on a daily basis.
Thank you Osprey, Amanda, Olena, Jenny, Rachel, Lise, Christiana, Theo, Jill, Cherri, Erin, Victoria, Meg, Maya, Katherine, Wangari, Ellen, Itzel, Penelope, Rhoda, Angela, Lisa, Lynne and Ros, for being my inspiration and strength for my personal battles against our changing climate. There are an infinite number of amazing women who I could name here; incredible women who inspire me every day and who constantly demonstrate to me that women are making a real and positive difference – leading in the fight – quietly and loudly – generals in the constant battles against climate change.
We are working to change the dynamics, so wins are positive but not battles. The “war” analogy is something that must end as we work together on this life long existential threat we face. Our eyes are open, our children are staring back, failure is not an option.
FYI: This post is updated and adapted from one that we shared here on ClimateMama in 2013.