How celebrating women became more than a foreign concept

How celebrating women became more than a foreign concept

By: Alison Myers 

The first time I remember hearing about International Women’s Day, I was a seventeen-year-old exchange student living out the last of my grade eleven days in Northern Italy. I’d only been there a month, so my grasp of the language was still pretty rudimentary, especially when more than one person was speaking or, even really, if just one person was speaking at normal Italian speed (i.e., multo rapido).

 

I arrived at school after my half-hour walk down into the valley to be greeted by swarms of Italian boys handing me stems of small yellow flowers and offering me gentle baci on the cheek. It was probably only eight or ten boys but in comparison to the attention I’d had thus far in life from the opposite gender, it felt like a lot. (My husband says it is.) I had no idea what was going on.

 

My exchange partner explained that it was the Festa della Donna, a day when women are celebrated, loved and recognized with a symbolic gift of mimosas (the flower, not the breakfast drink). And let me tell you, if there’s one group of people who knows how to express their appreciation for women, it’s Italian men.

 

It struck me then as romantic, not surprising considering my whereabouts. And I expected nothing more. It was all so foreign! My swooning naivety had yet to comprehend that, instead of welcoming flowers and affectionate admiration, we should have all been aiming higher. Somewhere in the realm of equality and mutual respect.

 

It was years before I heard tell of this day again. By then, I was a working journalist back on this side of the pond. There were no flowers on my desk and certainly no unsolicited kisses from colleagues in the newsroom. Instead, there was an air of hope and empowerment around the day, one that has continued to manifest and evolve over time. It all came with a focus on celebrating the achievements—and not just the existence—of women.

 

Now, International Women’s Day is a day to focus on the broad scope of contributions women make to our lives, no matter their profession, economic status or cultural background. It also offers an opportunity to have important conversations about gender parity, especially with our children, teens and young adults as they head towards professional life.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme, Choose to Challenge, reminds us:

 “We’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions—all day and 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.”

It puts the ball back in each and every one of our courts, which is exactly where it needs to be. Because, while it’s important to celebrate each other, it’s also important to lead by example.


It’s true that one of the biggest challenges many of us face is the ability to celebrate personal achievements without immediately back-pedalling, explaining, justifying or downplaying a claim to success. Amongst ourselves as women, we have a tendency not to voice our wins for fear it may come across as egotistical or self-involved. Even my daughter, still a child, will express pride in an achievement, then physically shrink and ask if she’s being too boastful. Cue the maternal red flags. For on the flip side, there is a risk that owning and advertising your trophy moments will be seen as a threat to others, as if the only reason one might call attention to themselves would be to bring others down.


Not only can we Choose to Challenge these norms of self-doubt, habits of comparison and systemic limiting beliefs, we can choose how. For my part, this March 8th, I will be celebrating the achievements of the women who surround me in my life. They are not high-powered politicians or mega social media influencers. They are a collection of stay-at-home mothers, happiness ambassadors, organizational fiends, whole-body listeners, doctors, nurses, entrepreneurs, fundraisers, stylists and more, each offering inspiration in their own way. I will also take a moment to reflect on what I offer them: empathy, quick wit and the ability to put into words the struggles we all share.


How will you Choose to Challenge on International Women’s Day? Share your thoughts and stories with us, either in the comments below or on our social media channels.

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