On Wednesday, March 8, UW-L hosted a celebration for International Women’s Day in the Hall of Nations in Centennial Hall. The event consisted of a panel of women from all around the world who shared their stories and reflected on what it means to be a woman seeking change.
International Women’s Day is defined by internationalwomensday.org as a, “Call on the masses or a call on yourself to help forge a better working world – a more gender inclusive world.”
This year’s International Women’s Day event brought women from Bulgaria, Iceland, China, Ukraine and a special guest from Syria, to speak to the UW-L community.
“International Women’s Day is a call for all women, all over the world, to stand for their rights, to seek their rights, to seek education, and be active,” explained Katrin Haraldsdottir, a registered nurse who immigrated from Iceland, “I believe more opportunity for education, more scholarships, and making maternity leave longer can help improve these problems.”
Kalina Bozadjieva shared that, in her native Bulgaria, there is two years of paid maternity leave which received shocked reactions from the audience. In comparison, the U.S. offers 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave.
Olena Bilous, an interior designer who immigrated from Ukraine, shared her story of her mother’s hard work to survive. “Women will save Ukraine…they only bring positivity and hard work,” explained Bilous on how Ukraine will recover from the chaos following the Chernobyl accident and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The night’s keynote speaker was Ghada Ghazal, a Syrian refugee, interfaith educator, and peace activist. She shared an issue she believed needed to be addressed. “I think, nowadays, especially the refugee woman [needs to be talked about more]. These people are displaced or they are in foreign countries and they don’t know the language, they may be alone, they need financial support, they need a lot of skills.”
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 4.8 million Syrian refugees have fled Syria while an additional 6.6 million have been internally displaced within Syria.
Ghazal reiterated the importance of education for women “Education will empower you in the future and make you active. Women have to not only be there, but to be active and make their voices heard.”
Kiya Zhen, a businesswoman from China, discussed the gender pay gap in her home country.
“In China, women are paid 35% less than men while working a similar job. We have to continue fighting it and that’s a big reason why days like today are so important.”
The first National Women’s Day was in 1909 in the United States after a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. It initially focused solely on addressing the pay gap and gaining voting rights but has since expanded to other social justice issues and celebrating women’s achievements. Ghazal closed the event, beckoning the crowd to “Stand for justice, for peace, and for the people in need.”