International Women’s Day and Beyond: Women’s Rights in Texas and Around the World

On International Women’s Day, March 8, I attended a wonderful event held in Dallas entitled “Texas Women Inspiring Change.” The following week I participated in other inspiring, amazing events at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York City. Increasing economic opportunities for women and organizing for change were common themes of the Dallas and New York events. Many voices affirmed the connection between economic justice and gender equality.

March 8: “Texas Women Inspiring Change”

Rosemarie Rieger & Mia M. Dia, reviewing program for "Texas Women Inspiring Change"

Rosemarie Rieger and Mia M. Dia organized and moderated this Dallas event. Rosemarie is co-organizer of North Texas Jobs with Justice, which is part of a nationwide network of labor, community, faith, student, and constituency organizations; she also serves on the Dallas Workers’ Rights Board. Mia founded Women’s Alliance for Leadership to empower LGBTQ women and their allies through community education, career development, advancing leadership skills and providing professional networking opportunities.

Rosemarie Rieger & Mia M. Dia

Rosemarie and Mia gave statistics demonstrating that even after more than 100 years of International Women’s Days, gender inequality persists. Although women are primary breadwinners for 41% of US families, they still earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns and for women of color it is even less. Women make up about 2/3 of all minimum wage workers. Mia and Rosemarie then sounded a clear call for women to organize and take action to bring change for gender equality.

President of Texas AFL-CIO, Becky Moeller, also emphasized organizing to promote economic justice for women and for all people. Denechia Powell, who organizes with the Global Climate Convergence, and Aimee-Josiane Twagirumukiza, who has worked with community groups for racial and economic justice, demonstrated the power of using social media in our work for social change.

Music, storytelling, drama, and all the arts empower our social activism by reaching us on the deepest level. MosiacSong, a women’s vocal group, gave a stirring performance of beautiful music. Vanessa Mercado Taylor, Visiting Scholar of Drama at El Centro College, showed the power of storytelling to shape values and cultural norms which drive our actions. She challenged us with these questions: “Which stories are defining our culture? Whose stories are ignored or erased? What are the stories that can help create the world we desire?”

The program concluded with women’s rights activist Sarah Slamen’s passionate challenge to organize to increase our power and to take action for gender equality. I left re-energized to work in solidarity with others for women’s rights, workers’ right, and human rights—they are all connected.

March 10-14, UN Commission on the Status of Women

My week in New York City continued to impress me with the commonality of the challenges women face, the connection between workers’ rights and women’s rights, and the resiliency of women even in the most difficult situations.One of the sessions on economic justice presented a picture of inequities similar to what we saw at the Dallas event. “All over the world the face of poverty is a woman,” said Michele Ozumba, President and CEO of Women’s Funding Network. “Still in 2014, 70% of single mothers even in the US live below poverty level. Women’s economic security is at the heart of gender equality.”

Michele Ozumba

In 1985 the Women’s Funding Network (WFN) was founded, growing out of the movement for women’s equality. This multicultural, interracial network connects and strengthens more than 160 organizations, including the Dallas Women’s Foundation, in 30 countries. The WFN invests in solving critical social issues by bringing together the financial power, influence, and voices of women’s funds to increase resources to support women and girls. “Before 1985, only 3% of philanthropy went to fund women’s organizations, and still only 10% supports women’s organizations,” stated Michele Ozumba. “Gender inequality goes beyond the wage gap. The deeper underpinnings of inequality are cultural norms of gender socialization that still haven’t been cracked in the US, Africa, Afghanistan, India, or anywhere in the world.”


Michele Ozumba speaking at UN Commission on the Status of Women Event

Like the Texas women inspiring change, Michele Ozumba urged collective action as the most effective way to bring social change. She expressed urgency and frustration in trying to persuade people to join together for action. “The biggest challenge is silence,” she said. “There is so much chatter trying to silence social movements. In isolation we can’t change things; we have to collaborate. Where is the women’s movement in the 21st century? We need to address the intersection of gender, race, and class in the movement for equality. Not having access to reproductive health is a huge barrier for many women.”

Like the Dallas women’s rights event, this economic justice session at the NY convention stressed using technology to support movement building. Speakers also emphasized education as vital to women’s economic opportunity. Raihana Popalzai, Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs at Kabul University, lamented that women in Afghanistan can’t find good jobs because it’s still challenging for girls and women to get the education they need. Dr. Yasuko Wachi, Professor at Josai International University in Japan, stressed not only equal education for women but also equal representation of women professors in higher education. “Women around the world face similar challenges to achieving equality,” she said. “There is no nation, government, or society that treats women as equal to men. We’ve made progress, but not sustainable results. Traditional cultural values undermine women’s equality.”

Rallying Cry Heard Around the World

The rallying cry I heard ring out from the voices of women in Texas and New York and around the world is to join together to claim our collective power and to take action for economic justice and for equal rights in all areas.

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 More to come on the UN Commission on the Status of Women


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