“You educate a man; you educate a man.You educate a woman; you educate a generation.” -- Brigham Young
“Meri, you must do your hair and put on makeup, for a change,” said my host mother, Vaska. “Oh and here, wear my beautiful shawl, with your pink blouse. Ajde brzo, we have to meet Lenke in 10 minutes.”
I remember distinctly my first International Women’s Day celebration, nine years ago in tiny Zletovo, Macedonia. I served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in this Balkan nation of two million people, working on a variety of community development projects for the municipality, including a major water fluoridation project.
We were getting ready to join Lenke and all the other women in Zletovo at Zlatitsa, one of three restaurants in the village. The local women’s organization organized a celebration every year: hiring a live band, providing a Macedonian feast, raffling off prizes and– most unique of all — a joke-telling contest. After the speeches and formal program, the singing and dancing began. It was a six-hour escape from the mundane household work and family caregiving that consumed most of these women’s time.
At the end of the night, the women poured out of the restaurant – for a few hours a haven, a joyous cacophony of storytelling, sharing of best practices, remembering times past and laughing — back to their quiet dark houses. The fun was not to be had for another year.
International Women’s Day has its roots as a socialist political event dating to the early 20th century. In Zletovo, any political or social justice aspect of the holiday has been lost, but it remains an important day of solidarity and camaraderie amongst women.
March 8 is cause for celebrating women’s success and increased influence in leadership, innovation and workplace participation but it is also a day to remind ourselves of all the work yet to be done. Work to close the income gap, work to protect women’s health rights and work to elect more women to office. The quickest and perhaps simplest way to achieve these goals is to make sure every girl around the world receives an education.
Despite progress, an estimated 66 million girls are left out of the classroom. Studies show that educating a girl can break the cycle of poverty in just one generation and that in developing countries, educated women are less likely to marry against their will, less likely to die in childbirth and more likely to make sure their children receive an education.
A few nights ago I had the opportunity to watch the film Girl Rising at the SouthSide Works Cinema. The film tells the stories of nine girls from around the world — including the nations of Haiti, Peru, India, Egypt and Afghanistan — who fought through the challenges of poverty, political oppression and gender bias to receive an education. Some of the stories are hard to hear, but the film is threaded through with moments of grace, beauty and most of all hope: these young women are using what they have learned to build better lives for themselves and their families, and a brighter future for others in their community.
But Girl Rising is more than just a movie: it is an international campaign for girls’ education, and to change the way the world values the girl. In honor of International Women’s Day, I encourage you to find ways to celebrate and improve the lives of women and girls around you — perhaps through the resources offered at the Girl Rising website. You can bring a public screening to your community (another SouthSide Works screening is tentatively scheduled for April 10 if at least 41 tickets at $10 each are purchased), donate an educators’ edition and curriculum to be shown in your neighborhood school and help spread the word by sharing this post with your personal, business and social media networks about how we can help girls in poverty to improve their lives and their communities through education.
Check out the trailer below.