I knew something important was coming along; I had started to notice the flyers around town advertising special dinners. Any time there is una cena speciale, you know it’s a holiday. This time all the announcements were for pre-reserving celebratory meals and parties to mark the Festa della Donna, Celebration of Women, or Woman’s Day if you will. The customs are basic and sweet – mimosa blossoms are presented to every woman along with happy thoughts, the ladies plan a night out with their friends, and the special treat to indulge in at the end of the meal is the Mimosa Cake. The closest approximation we have in the U.S. is Mother’s Day, but I say that while all mothers are women, not all women are mothers! This day’s celebrations includes those of us who cannot or otherwise choose not to bear children. It celebrates everyone of the female persuasion highlighting our abilities, importance in society, but also our femininity.
Despite the merry atmosphere surrounding Italians’ celebrations of the day, it began with a darker history and a more somber goal.
What started as a sort of grass-roots effort on March 8, 1908 to protest poor women’s working conditions and low wages, International Women’s Day also became a day to march for peace and to demand voting rights. In 1911 there was a tragic fire at a garment factory in New York where more than 140 women, working in a sweat-shop environment, were killed because the factory doors were locked, keeping them captive. This tragedy served to proclaim the atrocious working conditions women, particularly underpaid immigrant women, were forced to endure and became a focus of commemoration for International Women’s Day for many years.
Perhaps it is also no coincidence that March 8 is also the day that Susan B. Anthony testified before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives arguing for a Constitutional Amendment to grant women the right to vote.
So, oddly, while these two important occasions occurred in the United States, the day passes largely unobserved and unknown in my homeland. Of course, for all the festivities in Italy, few people really commemorate the reason for the day so much as the spirit of the thing. But hopefully while the mimosa blossoms are blazing forth their yellow puffs, they will serve as a reminder to us to express solidarity with our worldwide sisters who are still struggling for freedom -personal, political or social- and who lack basic rights. This International Women’s Day, let’s commemorate not only those women who came before us allowing us the freedoms we have, but also our power to effect change and make a difference in other women’s lives.
Read more about International Women's Day.
Visit Amnesty International to learn about some of the pressing needs of women in the world.
"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of those who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." Proverbs 31:8-9
copyright 2007 Valerie Schneider