Remembering Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity

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“Women’s history is women’s right—an essential, indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long range vision,” said former chair of Women’s History Institute Gerda Lerner after Jimmy Carter proclaimed the first national Women’s History Week for March 2-8, 1980. It was only seven years later when congress passed a proclamation establishing Women’s History month. But before there was a month celebrating the stories and contributions of women who were so often left out of history books — there was a day, International Women’s Day. The day is a time to not only reflect on the progress of women, but a day to call for change.

There’s still progress to be forged in the realm of women’s economic empowerment, education and in preventing gender-based violence, maternal mortality, sex trafficking and forced prostitution. These are the issues addressed in award-winning documentary, Half the Sky based on the book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The film follows actor/advocates America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde across the world to Cambodia, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone, Somaliland and Vietnam. The actor/advocates explore women’s issues that hold half the population back and disable them from contributing to the whole of society. In honor of Women’s History Month we want to take you back to the countries we visited in documentary and give you a glimpse of what they were up to on International Women’s Day.

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Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for takeoff; first stop, India, where Air India operated the world’s longest-ever all-female crew flight to celebrate International Women’s Day. Air India Flight 173 took off on Sunday, March 6 and landed in San Francisco 17 hours later. This continues a tradition that began when Air India was the first carrier to operate a flight with an all-women crew on a domestic flight from Calcutta to Silchar, says Condé Nast Traveler.

200 women’s rights campaigners in Cambodia planned to pedal their way through gender barriers when their Women’s Day bike ride was thwarted by police. The rally was intended to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for further action to eliminate gender parity. A statement issued by the United Nations asserts that rural women in Cambodia are particularly vulnerable when it comes to discrimination, access to justice and education, domestic violence and land grabs.

Meanwhile, the women of Sierra Leone used International Women’s Day to advocate for women’s empowerment through the constitution. They seized on the country’s ongoing constitutional review process to present a position paper to President Koroma detailing their requests for gender parity. The president assured them the government would do what it takes to reflect their hopes and renewed his commitment to support the education of girls and women.

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In Kenya, Mastercard teamed up with African Women and Beyond in Kenya to launch the Africa Women Leadership Network in order to draw attention to women’s financial empowerment. The Network will bring together like-minded women from various business sectors to take on challenges facing women in East Africa and across the continent.

Pioneering women from around the world were celebrated this International Women’s Day. One of those women was Half the Sky’s featured advocate from Somaliland, Edna Adan. This week Adan was spotlighted in Huffington Post’s, “Celebrating International Women’s Day: Three Women You Need to Know.” Thanks to Adan, women in Somaliland have more access to health care than ever.

Another trailblazing woman lauded on International Women’s Day is the inspiring Thuy Truong from Vietnam. The budding entrepreneur who was dubbed “Vietnam’s start-up queen” was featured on online publication, Motherload’s, list of women pushing boundaries in science and tech on International Women’s Day. Truong founded a social messaging app called Tappy, which was acquired by a Silicon Valley gaming company 10 months after it launch.

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Throughout the coming weeks, and hopefully beyond, people around the world will continue to honor Women’s History. It’s also important that while recalling the paths that women have forged, we recognize what we can contribute in order to build a better future for ourselves. How are you celebrating Women’s History Month?