Even an unprecedented pandemic year did not deter women from gathering in virtual spaces to recognize International Women’s Day, a holiday that celebrates the monumental accomplishments of women across societal realms.
While in-person events and marches associated with International Women’s Day took a backseat this year due to COVID-19, a number of nonprofits and women’s groups did not forfeit the opportunity to celebrate.
In Santa Barbara, the nonprofit ShelterBox hosted an online panel Monday to celebrate the holiday, inviting women from all over the globe to share their success stories and discuss the way forward for women.
“I feel like this is a birthday for all of us,” Kerri Murray, president and CEO of Santa Barbara-based ShelterBox, said during Monday’s virtual gathering. “This is a huge movement.”
Ms. Murray gathered with seven other women in an online forum to discuss the notable accomplishments of women worldwide.
This group included Marie Kagaju Laugharn, a longtime international development professional who played a key role in convincing seven African countries to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty as a political affairs officer.
As a child growing up in Rwanda, Ms. Laugharn and her family lived through the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Though the genocide brought civil unrest and widespread massacres, something else arose from the ashes of the broken society.
The beginning of women’s participation in government.
During Monday’s virtual event, Ms. Laugharn shared that in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, women were invited to take on positions of power following the crisis, and now, women represent 60% of the national legislature.
“Once (women) were asked to participate, not only did they learn fast, they gave it all, and they went above and beyond,” Ms. Laugharn said. “They were found to be efficient and less corrupt. Women were found to be team players and run everything in a successful way. So that was the beginning of discovering that once women are given the opportunity, they are efficient, and they give it all.”
Other women at Monday’s event echoed this sentiment, including Catherine Bollinger, a gender advisor at the U.S. Agency for International Developing. Ms. Bollinger said USAID research findings suggest that when women participate in conflict resolution, the peace agreement is “more durable,” and when civil society groups, including women’s groups, are included in conflict resolution, peace agreements are 60% less likely to fail.
“It’s clear that bringing women into peace processes is critical for maintaining peace,” Ms. Bollinger said.
Other speakers during Monday’s event elaborated on how their work is helping to raise awareness of the role of women in society’s prominent sectors. Leslie Zemeckis, founder of the mentorship organization Stories Matter and a New York Times contributor to the Overlooked Project, discussed how her work seeks to encourage women to find their voice.
As a writer for the New York Times’ Overlooked Project, Ms. Zemeckis wrote profile-style obituaries for marginalized individuals who made large contributions to society that were largely overlooked in their lifetime. One of her pieces on the first female tiger trainer, Mabel Stark, inspired the documentary “Mabel, Mabel Tiger Trainer,” directed by Ms. Zemeckis.
“For all those little girls out there, they need to know that there were women out there who would not take a no,” Ms. Zemeckis said, adding that her inspiration for her projects comes from a desire to give women the courage to tell their stories.
As the celebration of International Women’s Day continues this week, Antioch University plans to host a “Women Leading Change” panel discussion Friday.
The panel will feature four prominent female figures who have initiated changes in their organizational positions or in society.
The event will be held from noon to 1 p.m. To register, visit continuinged.antioch.edu/course.