I find the word "International" in the day to be somewhat out of place. Living in Canada, I think women are getting a pretty decent shake. Not being one, my perception may be at odds with how most women feel they are treated generally - whether by men or other women.
To be sure, men still hold the majority of the power positions in our society - politically, in business, economically - but the real tell is in how equal opportunity is and whether the issue of a person's sex influences their progress personally and professionally. This is what International Women's Day should be about, right? That is: the promotion of women as equal members of our society to the point where being a woman is merely a fact and not a factor.
(In order to reach exact equality, of course, we would also need to eliminate programs that give preference to one's sex. I've pondered the relative merits of affirmative action programs and have never been able to wrestle my thoughts to a final conclusion. Perhaps another day...)
Anyway, we are perhaps 70, 75 per cent of the way there in western society? And, the improvement - as for many who were formerly at least partly disenfranchised - has been mostly in the past half-century. The women's movement has brought great, positive changes to our society. I, personally, wouldn't have it any other way. I'm a pretty typical male in how I spend my spare time (see hockey, beer, belching) but most of the people I work with are women and I find them far more intuitive and interested in a creative, positive work environment.
What irks me is that - and here's that pesky word - internationally, the vast majority of women across the world enjoy nowhere near the benefits that we see in the west. Too frequently, this doesn't seem to be much of a concern to the women's rights movement (or, at least, their appointed representatives) in places where women have rights.
This needs to change. When women's groups join in the typical leftist hue and cry - as so many of the prominent ones seem to do - they do women elsewhere a great disservice. In Canada, for instance, these groups opposed and continue to oppose the very just war in Afghanistan (Canada didn't send troops to Iraq) which brought an end to perhaps the most oppressive regime on Earth regarding women and they argue for people in this country to accept cultural customs that are clearly regressive. These kinds of things seem antithetical to me. You can't just gauge progress by your own rights while ignoring so many others living a life with no rights.
It occurs to me, too, that perhaps this is already changing. Traditional "women's groups" don't want to hear this but polls, for instance, regularly show that the American Tea Party movement has as many women - or near as many - identifying themselves as members as it does men. And, while people like Sarah Palin repulse me with their jingoistic, religious-based platforms, it certainly is telling that millions of people identify with her version of "hockey mom" feminism.
Anyway, enough soap boxing. Here's a positive: if you want to help women across the world, go to www.kiva.org. This is a micro-financing site where you lend $25 at a time to people across the world - usually so they can expand or begin their own small businesses. This is the way out of poverty; the modern day twist on "if you give a man a fish, you have fed him for a day, if you teach a man to fish, you have fed him forever."
I can't speak highly enough of the work kiva is doing. You go through the people looking for loans, you pick the ones you want and in a click of a button, you've given them $25 towards their goal. Kiva provides information on the project, those involved, the lending institution (with ratings for dependability) and sends you an e-mail every time a portion of your loan is paid back. Once a loan is paid off, you can either withdraw the money or lend it to someone else - although why you'd take it back is beyond me, that $25 won't even buy a ticket, drink and a bucket of popcorn at the local cineplex.
I'm using kiva now as main recipient of my charitable donations. So far, every loan I've made has been to a woman or group of women because raising women from oppression and destitution is a clear path forward for all women.
P.S. Please don't pillory me for the header - it's an example of the changes in our society that "You've Come a Long Way, Baby" was once the tag line for a cigarette aimed at women and that, today, calling a woman "baby" is likely to get you punched in the face unless you're Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing.