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Observing International Women's Day

Today March 8th, marks International Women’s Day (IWD). Ever since it was first established by the New York branch of the Socialist Party of America in 1909, millions of people across the world have used today to celebrate the movement for women’s rights. One hundred years later, the importance of bringing attention to women’s rights through International Women’s Day still remains. Given that this commemorative holiday has historically been associated with a reflection on women’s struggles in various areas of social and economic life and visionary goals for the future, it’s crucial to reflect upon the many challenges that continue to hinger women of all intersectional groups and to highlight some of the important fights that are being waged by women around the world and in our own communities. 

In 1909 during the first IWD, most women’s activists at the time were concentrating their efforts on obtaining universal suffrage rights; they would succeed nearly ten years later with the passage of the 19th amendment. Unfortunately, although the 19th amendment is often hailed as the capstone victory within the suffragist movement, in reality it took decades for non-white women to actually obtain the right to vote: Asian American women in 1952 and black women in 1965. Too often, our textbook historical understanding of women’s activism and women’s rights is one that focuses exclusively on white-feminism to the exclusion of women of color and other intersectional females. Contemporarily, race remains an unfortunately underdeveloped facet of mainstream feminist rhetoric and policy initiatives, even as scholars and activists work to expand conceptions of empowerment and liberation outside of white hegemony.

The United Nations has declared its theme for this year’s observation as “rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”, emphasizing the gendered labor making up the majority of agricultural worker forces. The nationwide strike planned for today—including a local demonstration planned for Duke’s campus—calls for marches and walk-outs to address issues of labor exploitation, underfunded social programs and anti-racist feminism internationally. Many iterations of it around the globe aren’t shying away from the difficult, varying and often complex webs of capitalist oppression that women have had to face in their countries and homes. Data on global wage gaps from organizations like the World Economic Forum and a recent report from the US Bureau of Labor statistics—which reveals that over 60 percent of workers who earned the minimum wage or less were women—serve as stark reminders that we still have quite a ways to go in the realm of socioeconomic justice.

Finally, here at Duke, the march towards equality and rights for all women, still continues as well. Women on this campus continually to exist within a highly sexualized, unsafe environment where nearly 40 percent of all undergraduates identifying as female report being assaulted. Additionally, female-identified undergraduates often report feeling spoken over in classrooms or undervalued by their male-dominated fields. Regardless of the gains made in the past few years on campus or the increasing availability of resources to deal with inequities, Duke still remains a microcosm of the violent and marginalizing world it is unfortunately nestled within. 

Regardless of the many obstacles that still remain for women of all backgrounds, International Women’s Day is still a chance to celebrate the many achievements accomplished by women’s activists over the last one hundred years. For at least half of the undergraduate student body, it is a collective opportunity to reflect upon their place within the University as a female-identifying within a still heavily male-dominated, patriarchal society. And for the other half of the undergraduate body, it is a chance to contemplate complicity and to consider how we can best support our female peers in the struggle for complete equality. 


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