Women's Day

March 8: Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, so designated by the United Nations in 1977, now honored in most countries, and a national holiday in some. The idea for such a day was first proposed in the early 1900s by several Socialist and Workers alliances, and first celebrated in 1911 in Scandinavia. March 8th was designated as IWD due to a convergence of international events on or about this day. Most notably, female workers in New York City (many of them sweatshop employees in the garment industry) had held influential protest marches on March 8, 1857 and March 8, 1908; in Russia, protests led by women's groups on March 8, 1917 (February 23 in the Julian calendar), had been instrumental in starting the Russian Revolution.

 

This year's IWD events cover the entire range of female empowerment issues, from entrepreneurship strategies to the campaign against female genital mutilation. Genital mutilation is but an early horror in Slave (2003), the true story of a Sudanese girl's abduction, prolonged captivity, and unrelenting abuse. In "A Freedom Song," by the Kenyan writer Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, an orphaned girl is virtually enslaved in her own village:

Atieno washes dishes,

Atieno plucks the chicken,

Atieno gets up early,

Beds her sacks down in the kitchen,

Atieno eight years old,

Atieno yo.

Atieno's exploitation and abuse culminates in her death during childbirth and the beginning of a new cycle:

Atieno had a baby

So we know that she is bad.

Fifty fifty it may live

And repeat the life she had

Ending in post-partum bleeding,

Atieno yo.

 

Atieno's soon replaced.

Meat and sugar more than all

She ate in such a narrow life

Were lavished on her funeral.

Atieno's gone to glory,

Atieno yo.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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