First, a little history…
In 1909, the first National Women’s Day was celebrated in America in accordance with a Socialist Party declaration on February 28th. A year later, the second International Conference of Working Women met in Copenhagen, Denmark. The conference had over 100 women from 17 different countries, representing working women’s clubs, unions, and socialists. They all voted in favor of an idea presented by German advocate Clara Zetkin for an International Women’s Day for women all over the world to fight for the rights to equality, voting and holding office.
The first day was celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switerland on March 19 in 1911; in 1913 it was decided that the date should be moved to March 8th, and has been celebrated on this day since 1914. March 8th is now a recognized holiday in 27 countries, including Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Russia, Uganda, and Vietnam.
Much progress has been made over the past century; however, the fact remains that women are still paid 30-40% less than men for comparable work. Seventy percent of fair trade artisans are women; the income generated by these women is often the sole income for the woman’s family, and with the fair wage provided by fair trade jobs, women are investing in the education, health, and future of their children, thus ensuring a more promising future.
Ngong Hills, Kenya
Namayiana was started in 1986 by a group of women of the Maasai ethnic group of Kenya and Northern Tanzania. The women of Namayiana make beaded jewelry, a tradition that goes back to when “the first Maasai was born.” The Maasai culture places a strong emphasis on body painting, ornamentation and modification to help identify and differentiate individuals. The colors of the beads of the jewelry have special significance: white is peace, blue is water, red is warrior.
Maasai society is strongly patriarchal, with decision-making in the hands of elder men. The women of Namayiana came together to try to create a way for their children to go to school. Agnes, a Namayiana artisan who recently learned to drive a car, explains:
Batsiranai Craft Project was formed in 1998 as a support group of 14 for mothers of disabled children. In Zimbabwe, the disabled and their families are often shunned from society and extended family, forcing many into extreme poverty. When the 14 women realized their shared talent for embroidery, they decided to create a handicraft business that would provide income to support their families. Since 1998, the success of the business has allowed Batsiranai to expand to 100 members, and purchase two houses used as a daycare center, physical therapy center, office and work space, and housing for three families. They are managed by a committee of seven who are democratically elected. They are members of the World Fair Trade Organization and the Zimbabwe Parents of Disabled Children Association. Ten Thousand Villages sells “Sharing Dolls” from Batsiranai: Each time a doll is purchased, its twin is given to a child affected by HIV/AIDS.
In 1971, Bangladesh suffered a brutal genocide, leaving many of the surviving women destitute and alone. CORR- The Jute Works was founded in 1973 to provide job opportunities to uplift and empower the mothers, daughters, and sisters of this ravaged nation. CORR has hired more than 4,000 women regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or caste level. Many women work from their own homes and self manage by democratically electing a president and a secretary to distribute work amongst their group. If a woman is having a particularly hard time financially, this is considered in the distribution of work. CORR has also established a number of community welfare projects like installing sanitation in artisans’ homes, building wells to provide pure water, offering financial help with medical emergencies, and starting health programs for pregnant women.
Artisan Haricha Begum, who has worked with CORR since 1980, says:
“My dream came true. My sorrows have all gone and my hope has been fulfilled.”
San Patong, Thailand
Grassroots HQ Co. ltd is an alternative trade organization that markets for Thai cooperatives, like White Lotus, whichworks to empower and employ women in San Patong, Thailand. San Patong is a very poor area where women are often lured or sold into prostitution. This area also has a very high rate of HIV infection. Grassroots provides AIDS education, awareness and training for care of those affected by AIDS. White Lotus hand-makes beautiful batiked paper from mulberry leaves, which are renewable resources.
Galilee Region, Israel
Sindyanna of Galilee is a women-led nonprofit established in 1996 to empower Arab women in northern Israel, as well as olive farmers and other artisans in Palestinian Occupied Territories. Sindyanna strengthens the economy of the Arab-Palestinian population and emphasizes cooperation between Arabs and Jews. It provides maternity and retirement benefits, educational projects, and organizes a summer camp for artisans’ children. The name of the organization is a reference to the Palestine Oak, symbolic for its endurance, stability and of the Arab population who remained in Israel. On March 8th, the Arab and Jewish women of Sindyanna will meet in Tel Aviv with other organizations to march for equality and celebrate International Women’s Day together.
Creaciones Chonita is a small business located on the coast of Lake Atitlan and was founded in 1981 by Concepción Sojuel Mendoza, an indigenous Mayan woman who lost her husband in the violence of the Civil War and needed a way to support herself and her children. Since 1981, Creaciones has grown to support 45 widows and young women full-time and 35 part-time. The women make a fair wage for their work, and a percentage of the proceeds are put aside for social projects, such as a scholarship fund for needy children, and a program that provides monthly food packages to elderly widows. Additionally. Creaciones has taken part in building a school for 225 children and is working on a senior citizens center.
Guatemala City, Guatemala
UPAVIM was started in 1988 to provide health and education services for women on the outskirts of Guatemala City living in a squatter community called “La Esperanza.” The women of UPAVIM are mothers, homemakers, widows and in many cases the sole breadwinners of their families. The women must first volunteer 32 hours, and continue to volunteer two hours a week at the UPAVIM community care center. In addition to crafts, UPAVIM has started other small businesses such as a bakery, pharmacy and an internet center. Through UPAVIM, donors also fund scholarships for 430 elementary and junior high students. Profits also go to running a Montessori Infant Education Center and an Alternative Elementary School.
So, in the spirit of all women, let’s share in the success of our sisters everywhere, and as we move forward remember all that our fore-mothers have fought for and accomplished. Keep fighting for equality and respect for all women of the world in their honor!