Choose to Challenge – A Fitting Theme for International Women’s Day, 2021

March marks the beginning of Women’s History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating women and all they have done for society, home and abroad. Women’s History Month had its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed Public Law 97-28 which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” Throughout the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Public Law 100-9 which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.” Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, presidents have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.” These proclamations celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields. 

March 8th is now designated across the world as International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate all women and what they have contributed not only to society but to the lives of people in their communities. For each IWD there is a theme picked to highlight something different each year, 2020’s theme was “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights” and 2021’s theme is “Choose to Challenge”. After the year the U.S. and the world has had choosing to challenge society to create a better one fits perfectly with the multiple social justice movements igniting a fire to change our world for the better. Internationally and domestically, these challenges have persisted, and some have crumbled and been defeated in the attempt to more adequately address to women’s issues.  

In Argentina and Ireland, both Catholic countries have legalized abortion. Argentina’s Congress has legalized abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy, which might seem like a modest win but is a ground-breaking move for a region that has some of the world’s most restrictive reproductive healthcare access. Abortion had previously only been permitted in cases of rape or when the health of the woman was at risk. Activists are hoping that the passage of the law in Argentina, a very influential country in the region, will inspire other countries to follow suit. Celebrations occurred after the vote was counted and announced with thousands of activists bearing the green handkerchiefs that have become a trademark of their movement. In 2018, Ireland saw a similar revolution to that in Argentina. A referendum vote found that 66.4% wanted to repeal the abortion ban compared to 33.6% that voted to uphold the ban. Before, Ireland only allowed abortions when a woman’s life is at risk, but not in cases of rape, incest or fatal fetal abnormality. The Eighth Amendment in Ireland, which grants an equal right to life to the mother and unborn, will be replaced. These are huge wins for women internationally, however, women are still struggling to access full reproductive healthcare in other countries, including the U.S.  

We have seen in Poland, the right to abortion care and the right to have autonomy over your own reproductive decisions being under attack with the new near total abortion ban. In October, the Constitutional Court found that a 1993 law allowing abortion in cases of severe and irreversible fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional. In 2019 alone, 98% of abortions carried out in Poland were under those grounds, meaning that the ruling effectively banned the vast majority of abortions. The ruling provoked outrage among the supporter of the right to abortion. Poland’s strong conservative government, which has huge ties to the country’s powerful Catholic church, supports the ruling. Following the announcement that the ruling would be enforced starting immediately groups defied coronavirus restrictions to protest in Warsaw. Protestors were seen waving red flags and LGBTQ flags, some even carrying posters reading, “Free Choice, Not Terror”. Leaders of the nationwide Women’s Strike movement that opposed the ban wore green headscarves as a nod to Argentina’s women’s movement that successfully campaigned to legalize abortion. Women are still protesting and fighting to gain rights that everyone should be granted no matter where they live or who they are.  

Even in the United States, we can still do more and do better. The International Center for Research on Women has sent a Feminist Foreign Policy Memo for the new U.S., Biden, Administration to showcase how they can take a different policy route than other administrations “business as usual” policymaking approach. Some of these recommendations include the need for a US Strategy for Feminist Foreign Policy ensuring effective integration within executive branch agencies and all U.S. international programs should consider and incorporate intersectional gender analysis in their design, implementation and evaluation intersectional gender analysis in funding to name a few.  

The theme Choose to Challenge for this International Women’s day is a reminder. A reminder that a challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge ourselves and others to make a better more equitable world for all.  

Victoria Hernandez, NOW Foundation Public Policy Intern


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