Almost every day marks the “day of” something remarkable, important, or just odd. March alone has lots of these red-letter days, including the 6th National Day of Unplugging (urging us to take a break from screens of all sizes), 14th National Pi Day (suggesting we honor 3.1415926535 by eating pie), and 28th Respect your Cat Day (obviously). If you’ve wondered, as I did, how all these days become notable and worthy of viral social media posts, NPR’s Planet Money did a deep dive. Suffice it to say, the Congressional “holiday factory,” the 752-page book “Chase’s Calendar Of Events,” and Chicagoan Adrienne Sioux Koopersmith share the credit.
But among the aspirational and just plain kooky, some days remind us of the critical need to celebrate accomplishments and highlight the work that remains. March is Women’s History Month and yesterday was International Women’s Day (IWD). National Woman’s Day in the United States started in 1909, with a declaration from the Socialist Party of America. Keep in mind, American women couldn’t vote until August 18, 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified by all states. Wisconsin was first to ratify, just saying. More than one million people rallied in 1911 at the first IWD observance in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, campaigning for, among other things, the rights to work, vote, and hold public office. Less than one week later, 146 people, mostly Italian and Jewish women and girls, died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, linking IWD with the memory of these women and girls and the fight for safe working conditions and labor legislation ever since.
The United Nations first celebrated IWD in 1975 and formalized it in 1977. The UN’s 2020 IWD theme is I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights. The IWD 2020 Campaign’s theme is #EachforEqual, focusing on “collective individualism” (how our individual actions and outlook can impact society).
Since at least 2013, Congress has adopted an annual resolution supporting the goals of IWD. The 2019 resolution includes a rundown of the Good and the Bad as of last year:
· Closing the “global gender gap in labor markets” could increase worldwide gross domestic product by up to $28,000,000,000,000 by 2025;
· “[T]he advancement and empowerment of women and girls around the world is a foreign policy priority for the United States”;
· The United States has adopted multiple strategies, plans, and policies, addressing the goals for empowering women and why it matters, including, for example, the United States National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security revised in June 2016 and the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act of 2018;
· Giving women meaningful roles in policymaking improves outcomes (e.g., “a peace agreement is 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years if women participate in the development of the peace agreement”).
· Annually about 12,000,000 girls are married before they reach the age of 18;
· About 25% of girls ages 15-19 are victims of physical violence;
· 72% of all detected trafficking victims are women or girls;
· World-wide women are “vastly underrepresented” in “high-level positions” and in legislatures and governments;
· Women’s “economic empowerment” is “inextricably linked” to essential human rights that aren’t being met including health care, education, safety, job training, labor rights, legal rights and leadership opportunities.
In writing this, I’ve thought a lot about what IWD means to me, about its origins, and about the Good and Bad. I’ve thought about how to distinguish IWD from Respect Your Cat Day—more than witty social media posts of women and girls wearing purple striking the #EachforEqual pose. I’ve thought about why, when we hashtag our social media posts with #IWD2020 and #EachforEqual, we need to remember the women and girls who died in NYC 109 years ago. I’ve thought about the Ugly, how Congress, even with all the Good and the Bad and even after coming together on a bipartisan IWD resolution (a big deal these days), isn’t doing even close to enough.
Don’t get me wrong. Yesterday I enjoyed all the pictures of the moms, sisters, daughters, female entrepreneurs, and female celebrities. I enjoyed the #EachforEqual poses. And I love purple. But, if we, like Congress, are happy to pat ourselves on the back for all that we’ve done but not change anything moving forward, then we are not honoring the memory of our immigrant sisters, mothers, and grandmothers and all the others who came before and we are not doing right by our daughters and granddaughters either.
So now, on the day after IWD, what can we do? Support, with time and money, organizations that work on these issues every day. Here are just a few ideas from the National Women’s Law Center, Kiva, Camfed, and Futures Without Violence. But there are lots. Seek out and support local businesses that are female-owned. Learn about what the women who got us here really did and thought. (Spoiler: Rosa Parks didn’t refuse to get up because she was too tired.). And, most important, vote. The Wisconsin presidential primary is on April 7, 2020. Put it on your calendar now in red, highlight it, and underline it. Post a picture on social media after you vote, with your “I voted” sticker. I think I’ll tag mine #IWD2020.
Thanks for indulging me this month. I’ll be back to writing about legal topics for entrepreneurs in April. In the meantime, I’d love to know what IWD means to you. Comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephanie L. Melnick
Attorney, Melnick & Melnick, S.C.
Stephanie has been practicing law in the Milwaukee area for over 20 years and currently owns Melnick & Melnick, S.C. – a law firm that caters to small and medium-sized businesses. Stephanie also started She Stands Tall to help female entrepreneurs and business owners network, learn, and grow.