Started as International Working Women’s Day in 1910 as a means to promote women’s rights and suffrage, it has evolved differently across the globe in different regions. Men may express love and appreciation toward the women in their lives where the event has less socio-political underpinnings. In other locales it is an occasion for women to stand together for peace and human rights, such as the bridge ceremonies started in Africa.
In the U.S., we may want to remember that women half a world a way—such as the Afghan woman who had her nose and ears cut off for trying to run away—need us to stand with them every day. So do women right here, down the street.
There’s an international day for men, too—on November 19th, designed to bring attention to boy’s and men’s global health issues, improve gender relations and highlight positive male role models. So, it all works out. But, for women, it’s different.
When I walk into any room in public life there will always be at least one person who, consciously or not, thinks of me as less valuable—or worse—than a man in that room. Men and women generally respond with surprise when they learn that I have a technical background, I’m as comfortable discussing kilowatts as writing styles, and I can work a table saw almost as well as a sewing machine (although less artfully).
I do it, too.
In the U.S., we collectively think of “women’s roles” and “men’s roles.” Coming up through a “man’s world,” I still occasionally find myself surprised by another woman’s role it; and, I surprise others all the time.
Surprise is okay. It keeps the world interesting and helps me to check my assumptions. But, I do mind the serious challenges that my peers and I face: lower pay for the same work, a culture that demeans intelligent girls and women, a society that glorifies the objectification and even sale of women, physical and mental abuse, sexual harassment and rape.
I’m fortunate. In my little world, I’m get to revel in being feminine, strong, and capable. I can keep the gross inequalities arms length; I can turn them off.
But, many U.S. women. They need that job where they get paid less and get sexually harassed. They have been beaten—physically and mentally—until they believe the are worth less. I know these women, and they need International Women’s Day… and they need the rest of us too.
Our inculcated inequalities get down to energy, too. Millions and millions of women across the globe don’t have access to energy. For them, “energy access” means walking miles a day to scrape together enough sticks for cooking—over an inefficient stove that will lead the women and their daughters to an early grave. I think of them each time I haul wood or tend the fire that heats my home. I do it by choice. Millions do it for need. And, it’s “women’s work.”
I can’t change all of the inequalities. My grandmothers were born into this world as property and it will take a few generations more before our global collective consciousness shifts to general equality. But, I can help us see the world as it is, and remind us that our everyday actions that drive that shift.
To that end, and on behalf of Women in Sustainable Energy, I’ve organized two Forums to be held in Denver, Colorado as part of the World Renewable Energy Forum in May 2012: “Renewables creating impact through novel energy access for women in sub-Saharan Africa” and “The opportunities for women in U.S. renewables.” I’ll be joined by amazing women and men who are taking much bigger steps than I to help women leverage their own capabilities and help to create a better balance in the world. Join us for the dialogue. WISE is also helping to fund access to Dr. Barbara Farhar’s workshop, “Engaging Women in Energy Solutions.” This event will teach women how to employ their skills to change the balance of energy access across the globe.
On Mother’s Day, my daughter always asks me,” When is ‘Kid’s Day’?” I tell her, “Every day is your day.” That’s the world I want for her: a world in which every day, every child, every girl and boy, can be joyful in their freedom, their world, and the adventure that is their future—one that is full of beautiful surprise.