Most of the artisans I work with are women, many of whom live in rural areas where women are generally not encouraged to get an education, earn their own money, or aspire to any future beyond being mothers and homemakers. The commitment to empowering girls and women so that they have the opportunity to choose a more expanded future for themselves is one of the aspects of Fair Trade that I love the most.
And the statistics indicate that when women begin to bring in their own income, they reinvest that income in the family and the community at very high rates, with major ripple effects beyond the individual. However, girls and women still have a long way to go to reach parity with men on many social, economic and political levels, in the USA and elsewhere.
That’s why International Women’s Day, March 8th, is always one of our favorite holidays at HoonArts, even though it’s largely unrecognized in the USA. It’s a big holiday in Central Asia and Europe. My sister, who is currently visiting from her home in Spain, reports that it’s a major celebration in Spain, with parades and festivities around the country, in even the smallest villages.
The original International Women’s Day grew out of the 1908 protests by women in New York City against a backdrop of terrible working conditions and exploitation, when 15,000 women took to the streets protesting for shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. For most of the 20th century people celebrated International Women’s Day at the grassroots level, as a rallying point for social justice. The UN celebrated the first official International Women’s Day on March 8, 1975, during International Women’s Year.
UNESCO’s description of International Women’s Day reflects the multi-faceted purpose of the celebration:
International Women's Day is an occasion to celebrate the progress made towards achieving gender equality and women's empowerment but also to critically reflect on those accomplishments and strive for a greater momentum towards gender equality worldwide. It is a day to recognize the extraordinary acts of women and to stand together, as a united force, to advance gender equality around the world.
International Women’s Day is celebrated all over Central Asia. In all three countries I work with—Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan—March 8 is a day on which men compliment the women in their lives and bring them flowers, sweets, and other gifts of appreciation. Families may also celebrate by a rare visit to a restaurant.
But the goal of women’s empowerment is never forgotten, so International Women’s Day is much more than an international version of the “Valentine’s Day for sweethearts” celebrations we are used to in the US. Here are a few country-specific snippets that I found that illustrate the broader reach of International Women’s Day in Central Asia:
Rikki Quintana (center), with Munira Akilova and Khayriniso Ghanieva, another community leader within the Armughon Handicrafts team, Tajikistan
Tajikistan-In Tajikistan, both Mothers Day and IWD are celebrated on March 8, so there is a special emphasis on mothers. In a 2017 Mother’s Day interview, Mahbuba Qurbonaliev, the Country Director of the Central Asia Institute-Tajikistan, emphasized the importance of education:
“Education is one of the most critical areas of empowerment for girls. An educated woman has the skills, information and self-confidence that she needs to be a better parent, worker and citizen. An African proverb says, “If we educate a boy, we educate one person. If we educate a girl, we educate a family – and a whole nation.” By sending a girl to school, she is far more likely to ensure that her children also receive an education. As many claim, investing in a girl’s education is investing in a nation.”
Ikat weaver with Crafts Studio IkatUz, Margilan, Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan-Like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan celebrates both Mothers Day and International Women’s Day on March 8. It is a public non-working holiday. Many offices celebrate the day before, with men giving their female colleagues flowers and small gifts, and sometimes there is a small office party. Some Uzbek men will take over all the household duties for the day, including cooking, washing dishes and looking after children. (Don’t you wish that were a tradition on our American-style Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day!)
In Tashkent, there is an annual concert dedicated to women held at the massive Istiqlol Palace theater and convention center, and pop stars also offer special performances in honor of the day.
But the day also celebrates the accomplishments and empowerment of women, which is receiving a lot of attention in political and economic spheres in Uzbekistan. Uzbek labor legislation affords equal rights, the right for childcare leave for up to three years, and benefits for pregnant women. The Women’s Committee of the Microcreditbank espoused a joint decision in March 2015 to arrange seminars for the development of women’s entrepreneurship in remote areas of Uzbekistan. Also, the Women’s Committee with the Central Bank of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Association of Banks of Uzbekistan agreed to a plan of joint activities regarding the employment of female college graduates, primarily in small scale industries, services, farming, small business and work at home, particularly in rural areas.
Zhanyl Sharshembieva of the artisan group Seven Sisters, Bishek, Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan-In Kyrgyzstan, various fundraiser events and festivals are organized every year to increase awareness for women’s rights. Such events try to celebrate the women who are working to support gender equality. From the past few years, Kyrgyz women are invited to a party, ‘MehrShavkat’, organized from the public fund. This party invites women who have been involved in improving local community life. The honorees enjoy a respite from their hard work as well as special gifts and good food.
And this recognition of women’s accomplishments can also be a focus at the family celebration level. One exchange student in Kyrgyzstan told the story of her host family. Each year, the parents buy their daughter a special piece of gold jewelry on International Women’s Day to show how proud they are of her and her accomplishments in life. The whole family participated in the shopping expedition.
As the exchange student explained:
“After one and half hours of my host sister trying on gold earrings, she finally chose a pair to her liking; my host father blessed the earrings, hugged his daughter, and told her he was proud of her and the woman she has grown up to be. This was a really touching moment, I could see how proud my host father was of his daughter and the earrings were a way for him to show her how much she means to him.”
The UN theme for International Women’s Day 2023 is, “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”. This theme is aligned with the priority theme for the upcoming 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-67), “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. IWD 2023 will explore the impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities. The event will also spotlight the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in digital spaces and addressing online and ICT-facilitated gender-based violence.
Beyond the UN’s 2023 technology theme, the global IWD community, which is not limited to a single organization or country, has chosen a 2023 global campaign theme of #EmbraceEquity. The aim of the IWD 2023 #EmbraceEquity campaign theme is to get the world talking about Why equal opportunities aren't enough. People start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action. Check out this great explanation of the difference between “equality” and “equity.”
So I invite you to join the global celebration and discussion. #EmbraceEquity, explore “DigitALL” and consider how you and society can close the digital gap and use technology to enhance the advancement of women everywhere. And help spread the word about International Women’s Day and all it stands for.
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