Monday, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. The U.S. began recognizing the holiday in recent years but many other countries have been celebrating it for decades. In Petersburg, Working Against Violence for Everyone or WAVE is bringing the holiday to light this year as an opportunity for the community to come together. KFSK’s Angela Denning has more:
The purpose of International Women’s Day is pretty simple. It celebrates equality and the women of the world from the stay at home moms to the business leaders.
“It’s not very known in the US as opposed to other countries where they do have pretty big celebrations of this day and they’re own kind of unique take on things, which I think is really cool,” said Annette Bennett, WAVE’s Director.
In a conversation with several WAVE workers, they told me that Petersburg is filled with strong women, whether its encouraged from Tlingit matrilineal culture or the Norwegian women who ran the town while the men were out fishing, at least traditionally.
Bennett grew up in Petersburg and says she didn’t know anything could be different.
“Growing up here I didn’t realize that was unique until I moved out of the state and realized, ‘Oh, you think I’m maybe not supposed to do things because I’m a woman,’ and it never occurred to me before then.”
Hilary Hunter echoes that sentiment. She’s one of WAVE’s advocates and also grew up in Petersburg, a place where she says everyone pitches in, no matter your gender.
“I didn’t know how fortunate I was to grow up with that until I went somewhere else,” said Hunter.
Certainly, not everywhere is the same. According to the United Nations’ website, 49 countries do not have laws protecting women from domestic violence. And 750 million women and girls were married before age 18.
But dozens of countries do celebrate women during International Women’s Day; countries like Madagascar in East Africa. Hunter experienced it there while she was teaching in the Peace Corps. She says it was recognized as a national holiday and all of the women had the day off. In the morning, they would clean places in the community and in the afternoon, celebrate at the community hall.
“There was a big party there,” Hunter said. “The whole town would go. There was loud music playing. The women would all sing together and dance and there was a lot of pride food that was brought around on platters and passed out.”
Stephanie Aikins is WAVE’s office coordinator. She says she likes to see women taking on roles that are traditionally more associated with men.
“I have my firefighters certificate and that’s something I carry with pride,” Aikins said. “And it’s really cool to see that I’m not the only one, I have a lot of friends that have done the same.”
But breaking the molds can have its challenges. It can sometimes mean that women do all—all the time, says Bennett.
“We do all those things and then we’re also expected to figure out what’s for dinner,” she said.
“Right?!” others chimed in, laughing.
And just using the word “feminist” can sometimes get misconstrued.
“When you’re a feminist, you’re not saying women are amazing and men are horrible,” said Bennett. “It’s about equality and that’s something that a lot of people don’t understand.”
Stereotypes can go both ways, the WAVE workers say. Men should also have the right to stay home with the kids if that’s what works best for the family.
But International Women’s Day doesn’t have to fix all inequality. It can simply be just a day to recognize how far women have come.
Heather Fegan, another WAVE advocate, says she sees it as day to celebrate voting rights and getting women into the workforce.
“Men have always had a voice whereas women haven’t and we’re celebrating the fact that we found it and we’re working towards a more equal society,” Fegan said.
Bennett says it’s an opportunity for the community to come together and decide how locals want to celebrate the day.
And then it eight months, it’s International Men’s Day, November 19th.
WAVE will be hosting an online chat about International Women’s Day on Monday from 12:30-1:30 p.m. To see the details, check out the event on Facebook or find a link on our website KFSK.org. Also, on Monday, KFSK will host an international Women’s Day call-in show 10-10:30 a.m. where people can recognize important women in their lives.
In future KFSK newscasts, we’ll hear from some women in Petersburg who come from countries who celebrate International Women’s Day.