A day that has been observed since the 1900s International Women's Day is now recognised each year on March 8. In 1910, a woman called Clara Zetkin – leader of the ‘women’s office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany – tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She suggested that every country should celebrate women on one day every year to push for their demands. A conference of more than 100 women from 17 countries agreed to her suggestion and IWD was formed. In 1911, it was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19. In 1913, it was decided to transfer IWD to March 8, and it has been celebrated on that day ever since. The day was only recognised by the United Nations in 1975, but ever since it has created a theme each year for the celebration.
International Women's Day is not affiliated with any one group but instead it brings together women's organisations, charities, unions, governments and corporations together. International Women's Day is a global event that celebrates women's achievements ranging from political to social while issuing a clarion call for gender equality. Around the world the day is marked with exhibitions, marches, rallies, networking events and performances all aimed at spreading a message about gender equality, empowerment or advocating rights for women.
In Sri Lanka, it is no different as Women's Day is marked with various events including fashion shows and discussions on empowering women. While good practices are preached at these events, do these words of wisdom actually trickle down to the day to day lives of women? In rural Sri Lanka, women's empowerment and equality have a long way to go until they reach the same levels of the their sisterhood in the cities.
The original aim – to achieve full gender equality for women the world – has still not been realised. A gender pay gap persists across the globe and women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Figures show that globally, women’s education, health and violence towards women is still worse than that of men. This year the theme for International Women's Day is Be Bold for Change which aims to encourage people to step up and take decisive action to help drive gender equality. It is hoped that Be Bold for Change will be an active message will resonate with women around the world to step up and help each other.
In Sri Lanka while we celebrate this day, what do we as women do to help our fellow females? In the workplace females turn against their fellow female colleagues and even at home the female domestic aides are often mistreated. Until we effect change from within at every level then celebrating such days are indeed a hollow action. The change has to come from each and everyone of us females. We need to be the flag bearers of change. We need to be bold and we need to be that change that is needed to empower women at all levels.
What does International Women's Day mean to our readers? Here is a selection of their views.
Female empowerment is everywhere as we celebrate International Women’s Day 2017. Amidst affirmations, inspiring commercials and heartening initiatives to celebrate women, we have also reached a place in time where it has become essential to understand what really strengthens women and to me the modern day woman today is someone who exudes and exerts power in a very modern way with her power coming from a full, confident assertion of who she really is and understanding her role in this world and the impact she wants to create. - Linda Speldewinde, Founder AOD
I think the most important thing as a woman is to support other women, not to be jealous or feel as though anyone is more or less than you are but to be strong in ourselves and look out for one another. Every individual in this world is unique, with their own set of talents and strengths and we should be positive and encourage other people’s success, especially in a society which in statistics is still very much a man’s world. Women are most powerful when we unite together. - Alice Luker, photographer and Style in Sri Lanka blogger
In my opinion we have a tremendously long way to go in terms of gender equality in south Asia. I've been traveling in south east Asia for the past month and the amount of everyday freedom women in Vietnam or even Myanmar have in simple things like walking around the cities without being bothered by men is astounding. - Nayomi Munaweera, writer
If I could inspire a hand full of women; then I know that I have made a difference in my community, for they in turn will spread that same inspiration and help empower a nation’. Empowerment is about supporting one another, building each other up, supporting personal choices that will inspire change and eventually benefit our community and society’. - Dinali Bandaranayake-Dandeniya, Divisional Manager, Consultancy Glover Daniels International Director and Co-Owner, Café Kumbuk (Pvt) Ltd, President, The Rotary Club of Colombo Metropolitan
"At the end of the day it's not about what you have or even what you've accomplished.. It's about who you've lifted up, who you've made better. It's about what you've given back" These words by Denzel Washington are what I strongly believe in, practice and live by. - Dr. Nilanthi Fernando-Nanayakkara, Consultant Neurologist
Women's empowerment starts within you: "Never ever compare yourself to another woman. Create your own identity; Grow your own garden of Eden, plant your own styles, looks, ideas, happiness, actions, stories etc nourish them all with love and positive vibes. Be a graceful beautiful and a good woman; Empower yourself to find your own identity." - Dilum Goonewardena Nugegoda, Assistant, Permanent Delegation of Sri Lanka to UNESCO - France
If you want to hear something nice and flowery, ask a man. If you want to get something done, then ask a woman. Also, the ability to lead by example is greater in a woman. - Sumi Atapattu, Managing Director Saffron Island Destination Management
I am not sure if this country which boasts about producing the world's first female prime minister is giving women it's due. Do women get equal pay in Sri Lanka? I am not sure about it either. What men can do women can do too. That must be recognized not just by words but in deed. - Bandula Jayasekara, Consultant MTV News Channel (Private) Limited
I strong believe in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's famous quote "Well behaved women seldom make history". - Swanthi Samarakkody, Paediatric Diabetes Educator, California
I believe that being empowered begins within ones' self, regardless of circumstances. It begins with a positive mindset and knowing that women are resilient on many levels, and have an intuitive inner power and beauty that, given the right OR wrong circumstances can not only succeed, but empower their sphere of influence. - Priscilla Caren Anandappa, Art Educationalist - The Secret Garden Colombo
As a woman, you must identify who you are, what you are good at, and where you want to go. If you know yourself well, no one can stop you. - Achala Samaradivakara, Co-Founder of the Good Market
Empowering women is not about making them strong. Women are already strong. They have the power to create, nurture and transform. Empowering women is about changing the way the world perceives their capabilities to improve their wellbeing while playing a significant role in society. - Dinushka Chandrasena, Editor, Publisher for Travel Talk Asia, Mum&Me, Travel Talk Maldives and Health, Style & Fitness
Women by nature are caregivers and always tend to put others first. We come from a background where our instinct is to look out for just more than ourselves. So for me, empowering one woman doesn’t simply mean you empower one individual – it enables a chain reaction that has a cumulative effect which results in an entire family & community being empowered. The more women that get involved to help uplift, support and encourage other women is the stepping stone to shared success. Start small. Support one, thereby making a difference in many. It's most rewarding! - Shazna Muzammil, Head of Business Development - J Walter Thompson, Sri Lanka
Throughout history women have made vast and vital contributions to family, community, country and the globe without receiving due recognition. For me today it's important to realise that it's not that woman can do more now, but that we're slowly getting increased recognition. We have been, we are and we will always be a very talented, resourceful and enterprising half of society. We must never forget that there's nothing that we can't do if we put our mind and body to it. - Yasodhara Arawwawela, artist
I believe that women engage with their families, their work place, their businesses, their colleagues and the rest of the world 24/7 - the IWD in that sense, is not just one day but relevant for the whole year. Having said that, I think it it good to at least to set aside one day of the year to celebrate women - and remind the world of the contribution and the commitment mothers, sisters, wives, nieces, aunties, grandmas, teachers and girl friends make every day to enrich lives everywhere. - Nayomini R. Weerasooriya, Founder / Editor - Satyn Magazine, Founder M.D - Niche Corporate Communications
Womanhood is not defined by becoming a mother, wife, philanthropist, career women but it's when you look in the mirror and are able to smile at what you see. - Sasha Wickramaratne, wife and mother
Women’s rights are human rights’ is not just a slogan. It is a political statement. It is an entitlement. It is also a goal for us to achieve. As a man, I believe that I have a duty to work with women to ensure that women’s rights are indeed human rights. In the words of Albert Einstein, ‘the world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because of those who look at it without doing anything.’ - Harshana Rajakaruna, MP
I am a dad of two lovely daughters. They are intelligent. They are strong. And they are capable. I want them to go into the world Fearlessly. Confidently. Boldly. Empowered in the knowledge that they can achieve their dreams. WITHOUT facing obstacles purely based on the fact that they are female. - Chrishantha Jayasinghe (CJ), Managing Director, Sarva Intergrated
Empowering the woman of the 21st century has only made her more confident, more independent and more bold. She is a contrast to the woman of the past, who was meek, submissive and only spoke when spoken to. As a woman , I feel that the empowerment of our sex is indeed a great bonus. Especially, women who are restricted from exploring their fullest potential can make use of the opportunities created and astound the men who control their lives by showing off their talents and skills which would otherwise have passed unrecognized. - Vajini H.G, undergraduate
International Women's Day is one day we take a step back to reflect on and appreciate the many roles women are entrusted with and play. In a corporate world women need to believe in themselves and own their empowerment. Their capabilities are essential in the workforce and as corporates we need to facilitate and empower women to succeed. - Kasturi Chellaraja, Managing Director - Hemas Pharmaceuticals, Hemas Logistics and Maritime Cluster
Achieving full gender equality for women everywhere in the world is still to be realised. A gender pay gap persists across the globe and women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Figures show that globally, women’s education, health and violence towards women is still worse than that of men. Sri Lanka, despite the bragging rights in electing to this world the first women as a Prime Minister lags alarmingly in respecting the rights of women. The Ministry of Finance is proud to boast of an established cadre of women employees from our Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, and Head of Audit. Finally, not only as your Finance Minister, but also as a father to three daughters, I like to remind you today that every girl child one day would be a mother. Let us as a nation work towards ensuring that we protect, respect and treat every woman in Sri Lanka as we would our mothers. - Ravi Karunanayake, Minister of Finance, Sri Lanka
As we celebrate International Women's Day we need to understand the need to empower women on all levels. Violence against women is a scourge in society and takes many forms. In order to stop or reduce violence against women, we need to create awareness and change attitudes, increase the government's responsibility to protect women's rights, set up shelters for victims of violence, have trained counsellors who will support victims of violence and the inclusion of gender in the school curriculum will also help prevent violence against women. We have to be proactive to rid society of this ugly and deadly disease of violence against women. - Chandrani Bandara, Minister of Women and Child's Affairs