March 8th is International Women’s Day and is observed as a national holiday in many countries. I want to take a few minutes now to share with you some of the reasons why this DAY of observance means a lot to me – personally. I want to share some of my thoughts on why I feel that women are central to creating a culture that will make, create and facilitate policies and action to successfully slow down our climate emergency and build a livable future, where we and our families will not only survive but thrive.
First though, a little background that you can share with the kids in your life on 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, I feel that we must continue to mark this important day and to acknowledge and celebrate women. Sadly, and not least because in my own, adopted country of the United States of America, only once has a woman from one of the two national parties, been on a national ballot for president of the USA, and this woman, HRC, was never given a fair chance. Today, instead, we have a president who is quoted time and again expressing strong and consistent misogynistic views. In many countries, and also in many places in my 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 women’s education, health and the violence against them is much worse than that of men.
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 was 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 chose, they just couldn’t and shouldn’t pretend to themselves or others that they could do it all at the same time! In 1995, this resonated with me, now 25 years later, I would have thought we would have found ways for my daughter to have it all and it wouldn’t be pretending; in this time of #metoo, while we have made great strides, we still more often than not, cannot have it all.
Bella 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.
Today, I see and feel a part of a real women’s movement. 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 or singularly defined, it is taking shape in many informal and formal places. This is a movement that is built upon the belief in a bright future for our children based on clean renewable 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, passionate and scared. I am part of this movement and I strongly believe that women will be the change agents we need to move us forward successfully.
At this crazy time, with growing concerns about the coronavirus, with climate disasters continuing to unfold, I suggest making some time this week for you. When you do, also take time to celebrate women who are important in your life; women who are related, living, friends and even women who you may admire from afar. 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 ones that may be just “down the street.”
Thank you, Ros, Rita, Osprey, Jill, Lynn, Tara, Meg, Schuyler, Amanda, Rachel, Olena, Lise, Christiana, Leslie, Shelley, Mary, Lynne, Amy, Wendy, Keya, Andrise, Perry, Donna, Alana, Talia, Maya, Anna, Rhoda, Ana, Frida, Cate, Lisa, Ruthie, Margaret, Bonnie, Lisa, Molly, Thelma, for being my inspiration and strength for my personal challenges, and for our collective challenges that our climate emergency presents. There are so many more women who I could list here, and will at some point; amazing 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 beginning to win some of these battles, the war itself however remains an epic and lifetime challenge.
A similar version of this note was written in 2013, more than 7 years ago – things change and yet so much stays the same. I hope that in 7 years, through the rise and power of so many amazing women, we will be a true unstoppable force, that moves us farther and faster; as fast as our mother earth is demanding we move.