What International Women’s Day Means to Us

Held on March 8, 2018, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to showcase the achievements of women around the world and press for gender parity in all corners of society. World Learning has been celebrating all week long with stories showcasing the contributions of women in our global community.

It’s been an honor this week to share the stories of inspiring women in the World Learning community — starting with our newly named President and CEO Carol Jenkins and continuing with stories of our program participants. Together, they’re pressing for gender parity. They’re advocating for women’s roles as peacebuilders, scientists, and leaders in their communities. And they’re telling the world that the time is up for sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

On this final day of International Women’s Day coverage, we turn to the women of World Learning’s own staff. These six women represent a variety of departments and programs within the organization. They share what International Women’s Day means to them personally and professionally — from the day’s long and inspirational history to the work they’re doing to promote equality and inclusion around the world.

Nino Tabatadze
Director of Finance, World Learning Global Development and Exchange

On March 8, 1917, women in the Russian Empire went on strike for “Bread and Peace.” No one imagined that this “Women’s Day” would inaugurate the revolution. Seven days later, the emperor of Russia abdicated, and the provisional government granted women the right to vote. A year later, Canadian women and British women over age 30 were granted the right to vote. Together we rise!

Karen Ross
Program Coordinator, The Experiment in International Living

IWD is a time to, of course, celebrate all women — cis, trans, non-binary — and amplify the fight toward progress and justice, yet I also see it as a time to pay homage to the women before us, especially the forgotten, who have pushed and continue to push forward women’s rights. It’s a time to celebrate and reflect on collective and individual history, to remember that on March 8, 1857, garment workers in New York went on strike, leading to the formation of the first women’s labor unions. Amidst revel and protest, it is also a time for women to elevate the issues of the most marginalized, to acknowledge that we do not move forward unless all women move forward, and to take responsibility for and recognize that within our own history we have created barriers for others in the fight toward equity. Women’s issues are not just about cis-women or Western women. In working toward parity, we must push toward the liberation of all women, all creeds, all backgrounds, for it is in the intersections where the real magic happens.

There is an expression from my home country the Philippines, “Isang Bagsaak,” adopted from a ritual used by Anti-Martial Law activists, and the rough translation is “one fall, one down” or that we rise and fall together. This phrase was heavily used in the 1960s United Farm Workers Movement, a union composed of mostly Latinx and Pilipinx workers. They understood the importance of collectives, in fighting for one another, so at the day’s end, someone would start a unity clap in the fields that culminated in someone else yelling Isang Bagsak, and the whole community finished together in unison with a single clap. To me, International Women’s Day should reflect on that idea that we rise and fall together.

Christina Thomas
Director of Operations, The Experiment in International Living

In my 20 years of working in the international education field, I have had the great fortune to work with a group of colleagues, many of whom are women, who are leaders committed to global education, peace for understanding, and experiential learning through study abroad programs. I think they would all join me in the call to increase access for women and girls to participate on study abroad programs no matter one’s economic or social background.

Study abroad breaks down barriers and increases access to employability and leadership opportunities. It should be a priority of every school and government to send women and girls to study abroad. Study abroad provides the leadership skills that provide more leadership opportunities at home or abroad. As one sees more of the world, one understands their home community and needs even better. Think globally and act locally is the cornerstone of The Experiment’s goals. Press for progress in supporting the development of women in leadership roles. Now more than ever we need more women leaders in politics, business and education. Studying abroad is one avenue to help do this. The time is now.

Amirah Nelson
Program Officer, World Learning Exchange & Training Unit

On a personal level, International Women’s Day is a moment for me to pause, reflect on, and celebrate our foremothers’ sacrifices for women’s equality. It’s also a time to acknowledge and elevate the experiences of the extraordinary “ordinary” women around the world, many of whom power our societies and economies through the unpaid and unacknowledged emotional, domestic, and care work that we, by virtue of being women, are expected to perform.

Today I’m also reminded that it has been women who nurtured me, taught me, led me, and encouraged me to imagine a world where both men and women can live to our fullest potential, unencumbered by the destructive forces of patriarchy. In my working life, I often ask how I can continue that cycle for others. Luckily, I am privileged to serve as Camp Director for the U.S. Department of State’s Women in Science (WiSci) Girls STEAM Camp, which brings teen girls from the U.S. and Sub-Saharan Africa together to imagine such a future and encourage their passion for science, technology, engineering, arts/design, and math. Together with volunteers from Intel, Google, United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign, NASA, and the American Society for Microbiology, I have the opportunity to empower these girls with the knowledge that their ideas and contributions are not only of value, but that we are counting on them to lead the way to a safer, more sustainable, and more inclusive world.

In a world where the gender imbalance in STEAM fields remains truly appalling and many girls and women are actively discouraged from pursuing their interests in these fields, I am continually impressed by how these young women are confidently taking their seats at the table. From designing sustainable biogas generators to brainstorming ideas to empower other girls across the world while at WiSci camp, they are already taking steps to turn that imagined future into a reality.

Jennifer Chen
Program Officer, World Learning Exchange & Training Unit

At World Learning, I manage the Digital Young Leaders Exchange Program (DYLEP), which is an online leadership development program for youth in Iraq and the United States. In Iraq, where girls often do not have the opportunity to interact with boys in public schools, DYLEP creates that safe space online for them to share their opinions with their peers. By involving girls in dialogue online, it helps broaden everyone’s perspective on critical issues. In my role, I am fortunate enough to make intentional decisions to help girls achieve their goals, and it is my hope that DYLEP is the first step to helping girls see themselves lead in their own communities.

To me, International Women’s Day symbolizes progress — of how far we have come, and how much more we still need to go to forge a gender inclusive world.

Jennifer Collins-Foley
Senior Inclusive Development Advisor, World Learning Education & Capacity Development

International Women’s Day for me is a matter of appreciative realism.

Grateful for the feminists who raised me in a time when feminism was misunderstood to mean holding men back so women could go forward.

Appreciation for the five feminists in my house (including my husband and son) in the midst of long-overdue #MeToo awareness and activism.

Grateful for a sea change in understanding that gender intersects with other identities such as race, sexual orientation, disability, and age to contribute to unique experiences of oppression and privilege.

Confident about the growing body of evidence which shows that women’s political, social, and economic empowerment are critical to fostering international peace and dignity for all people.

Thankful for being part of the Gender Practitioner Collaborative’s Minimum Standards for Gender Mainstreaming — and part of World Learning’s pledge to meaningfully adopt the standards with the significant institutional commitment that it entails.

Proud to be part of World Learning’s commitment to gender and social inclusion at all levels, and its belief that transformative social change is only possible through inclusion, which is key to advancing more peaceful and just societies.

Indebted to the women and girls, men and boys who have blazed trails, and to those who are now working on the front lines, at grassroots levels, and in the halls of power, to advance gender equality and social inclusion in political, social, and economic spaces, to change entrenched norms and institutions toward a world that truly leaves no one behind.



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