Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and, depending on the circles you run with or the country you live in, you probably heard about it. In many countries, International Women’s Day is somewhat similar to a combination of America’s Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Friends and family celebrate the women in their lives with flowers and chocolates and warm wishes.
As a student involved in international affairs inside the classroom and out, yesterday was a great day to remember just how far women’s rights have come in many countries and how much work still needs to be done. My friends and I jokingly asked, “What about International Men’s Day? Does that exist?” And the reply was a sarcastic “Every day is International Men’s Day.” While this was obviously a joke and we all chuckled to ourselves, I can’t help but think about how true that is. In the same way that different ethnic groups have been fighting for rights in various countries for ages, the fight for women’s rights has too often been sidelined.
Women have made tremendous progress in the last century by redefining the words feminine and feminist; leading movements for the education of girls everywhere; becoming leaders in local, national, and global institutions; and showing everyone, everywhere that being a girl is a good thing.
Yet there’s so much more that we can do to aid the development of women. My call to action came when I saw the documentary Half the Sky. First of all let me say that this documentary is amazing, and it’s on Netflix so you should definitely check it out (it’s also a book, which is equally if not more brilliant). I watched the documentary in horror and disgust and so much hope.
“Women hold up half the sky.” What could be truer? Women make up half the population. There are quite literally billions of us, and nothing in this world would work if women didn’t help make it work. That alone was enough to make me want to jump up and do something, but I had to finish watching the documentary. I reached a part about Cambodia and the women there being trafficked into the sex industry. One woman, Somaly Mam, who had managed to make it out of the system turned around and charged right back at the problem. She helped locate and raid brothels, shut down trafficking rings, and opened up a sanctuary for girls to grow and learn and educate others. When she said, “Everyone can help. Everyone can do one thing. Start with your heart, what it wants,” I heard her. I decided that I would do something, so I applied and accepted a virtual internship with the U.S. State Department’s Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons. Now I submit open source reports on human trafficking in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. And I do it all from my couch at home. It turns out that doing one thing is far easier than it sounds.
So what’s my point? My point is that holidays to celebrate women are nice, very nice even, but action, even a small action, is far better. You can join a movement or NGO, or help a little girl learn how to read, or provide school supplies for girls in underprivileged areas, or support women in politics, or stand up for a girl being hit on at a party. You can do any of that and so much more. Be a part of the solution. Women will not be sidelined any longer.
DeAnna Miller is a senior at The Ohio State University studying International Studies, Russian, History, and Political Science. She also works for the Mershon Center for International Security Studies and U.S. Department of State.