OK, quick — name the holiday we celebrate on March 8. Stumped? Here’s a hint: Unlike all those holidays celebrating the lives, deeds and deaths of men, this one honors the more than half of the world’s population that happen to be female. The answer to today’s riddle (drum roll, please) is International Women’s Day (IWD). While Louisville’s celebration won’t be a vacation day off from work or a march-in-the-streets kind of event like it is in some countries, it promises to be well worth attending.
Claudia Peralta-Mudd of the Louisville Office of International Affairs, one of the many entities co-sponsoring the event, explains. “Events such as International Women’s Day play a major role in making Louisville such a vibrant and successful multicultural community. The celebration of International Women’s Day gives a voice to themes that are fundamental to the success of our community, and helps increase our capacity to work together as individuals, communities and institutions as we highlight the strength that comes from our diversity and rich cultural heritages.”
But IWD is more than that. For the past 5,000 years or so, there has been a persistent tendency to leave unexamined the impact that social, economic, environmental and military policies have on the lives of women throughout the world, resulting in women making up the majority of those living in poverty, the needless deaths of millions of women due to lack of healthcare and safe living conditions, and a worldwide pandemic of violence against women. For those reasons, IWD is also a chance to join hands in solidarity with women around the globe and to focus much-needed attention on these issues.
And while President Bush will no doubt serve up the usual annual platitudes about honoring women on March 8, his administration has, again (as it has every year since 2001) requested cuts in funding for maternal and child health as well as family planning. Meanwhile … more than a half-million women worldwide will die this year from the complications of pregnancy and childbirth, including 68,000 from illegal and unsafe abortions.
The ongoing militarism that plagues our planet is also extremely detrimental to women. Rape, a cheap alternative to bullets, has always been a de facto weapon of war. Women who are raped during conflict are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Conflict frequently leaves women without homes, food and medical care, and many become refugees. Obtaining work may become difficult, forcing many women into prostitution in order to survive. Hundreds of thousands of women are sexually trafficked every year, and violence makes it impossible for hundreds of thousands of girls to attend school.
Pollution is also an important problem for women. Recent studies have found numerous toxins in breast milk, and one out of six women in the United States has enough mercury in their womb to cause mental retardation, autism and other diseases. Women who breathe polluted air are four times more likely to have children who develop cancer. Other pollutants, such as PCBs, dioxin and DDT, are known to affect reproductive health and have been linked to breast cancer. Chemical and nuclear weapons affect women’s reproductive health, causing low birth weights and gross birth abnormalities.
In recognition of these issues and affirming the human rights of women, the theme of the Fourth Annual Louisville IWD celebration is, “We Stand with the Women of the World.” The event will begin with a rally and will include the building of a “Women’s Wall of Achievement” facilitated by artist Gwendolyn Kelly, as well as a speak-out and a chance to send IWD greetings to women in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Entertainment will be provided by the Sudanese Community of Kentucky, Caminos Cultural Arts, the River City Drum Corps and the Troubadours of Divine Bliss.
The event takes place at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 8, at the Americana Community Center, 4801 Southside Drive. The celebration is free and open to the public. Free parking is available next door at St. John Vianney Church.
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the founder of the Feminist Peace Network,
a co-founder of the Louisville International Women’s Day Coalition. Contact her at [email protected]