EXCLUSIVE: Celebrating International Women’s Day: Reflections from Natalie Portman, Maya Angelou and Other Renowned Women

Women’s Media Center

March 7, 2011

By Marianne Schnall

For the centenary of International Women’s Day this week, Marianne Schnall samples assessments from a wide range of women on where we stand around the world.

Stories related to women and girls globally generally tend to get so little mainstream coverage in the media that it’s too easy to remain blissfully unaware of their status. March 8, International Women’s Day, lets the world stop and consider women’s condition past and present—both to celebrate the economic, political and social strides women have certainly made globally, but also to remind us of the enormous inequities that remain to be addressed. Around the world, girls and women continue to lack economic opportunity and adequate health care and education. They are pushed into early marriage and suffer sexual violence and many forms of oppression and discrimination.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, which is celebrated in diverse ways.  Here in the United States, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will host a series of special events including the 2011 International Women of Courage Awards with First Lady Michelle Obama at the Department of State. And globally, thousands of people will unite on bridges around the world in a Join Me on the Bridge campaign organized by the women’s rights organization Women for Women International. The group will issue a call for women globally to have security, economic opportunity and an equal voice at the decision-making table.

The global community is increasingly aware of how educating girls and women helps the whole of humanity, with women’s empowerment linked to a host of other serious problems facing the world such as poverty, war and the environment. As Hillary Clinton said at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, “human rights are women’s rights …and women’s rights are human rights.”

If anyone needed a reminder of how women’s rights are interlinked around the world, they need look no further than the brutal sexual assault on CBS news reporter Lara Logan by a gang of men in the midst of the celebrations in the streets of Egypt—and her rescue by a group of women and some members of the Egyptian army. Women who participated in the Egyptian protests had finally felt safe in the streets and that their voices mattered. They had been all too familiar with harassment: a 2008 poll found that 83 percent of Egyptian women and 93 percent of foreign women were harassed in Egypt. And women in the United States are equally familiar with the kind of blame-the-victim media comment suffered by Lara Logan following the attack. As author and activist Gloria Steinem told me, “Lara Logan’s criminal assault and ordeal shows that violence against women crosses all lines of geography, privilege and culture—and so does women’s determination to protect each other. Just as her attackers should be punished, the women who took the risk of defending Lara deserve gratitude for providing an example we all must follow.”

Women—and men—must come together and take a strong stand for our own rights and those of our global sisters. (To get informed and involved, you can visit this list at the women’s web site I run, Feminist.com, where we feature some of the amazing organizations working on behalf of women’s global causes.)

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.