Dr. Susan Birns: Good news stories from gender front


NORTH ADAMS >> On Tuesday, March 8, Sabrina Tan and Chin Lee will be hosting their fifth annual special buffet dinner/fund-raiser for the Elizabeth Freeman Center in celebration of International Women's Day (IWD). This year, for the first time, the celebration will be held at Tavern at the A at 303 Crane Avenue in Pittsfield.

At the second International Conference of Socialist Women in 1910, political activist Clara Zetkin suggested celebration of International Women's Day on a designated day every year when all countries would honor the efforts of women around the world to secure their basic human rights. That designated day has been March 8 since 1913. During International Women's Year in 1975, IWD was officially recognized by the United Nations and adopted by many national governments around the globe.

It will come as no surprise that neither one day a year to celebrate women internationally, nor one month a year to publicize women's history (March is Women's History Month) produces gender equality.

I teach a cross-cultural course on gender roles and my students are often depressed by studying the status of women across the globe. To offset some of the dismal global data on gender and poverty, illiteracy, health, media, and politics, this semester we are beginning each class session with a "Good News Story from the Gender Front". I decided to explore that theme in this column as well. The examples that follow come from my students' (past and present) and my own research in this area.

Pioneering women

Did you know that women invented all of the following: the machine that creates paper bags with square bottoms (Margaret Knight in 1871); the game "Monopoly" (Elizabeth Magie in 1903); the first home heated by solar energy (Dr. Maria Telkes and Eleanor Raymond in the 1940s); the computer language COBOL (a team led by Dr. Grace Murray Hopper 1959-1961); closed circuit television security (Marie Van Brittan Brown (1969); the laser used to remove cataracts (Dr. Patricia Bath in 1981); the process to isolate human stem cells (Ann Tsukamoto in 1991); and the disposable cell phone (Randi Altschul in 1999).

The first women-led mosque in Scandinavia (The Mariam mosque in Copenhagen) opened in February. Everyone is welcome to attend prayers, but they will all be led by women imams. Both Rwanda and Bolivia have Lower Houses of Parliament with more than half of the seats filled by women (63.8 percent and 53.1 percent respectively). Cuba's single house Parliament is 49 percent female —The U.S. House of Representatives is currently 19 percent female.

After 27 years of advocacy by the group Women of the Wall, the Israeli government recently agreed to let women and men pray side by side at Jerusalem's Western Wall, one of Judaism's most sacred sites where tens of thousands pray daily. It should be noted, however, that the accommodation of thousands of worshippers simultaneously came at the price of leveling an entire Arab neighborhood almost 50 years ago.

In the past few months, both Ethiopian Airlines and Air Zimbabwe flew their first flights with all-women flight crews. In Ethiopia, not only were all of the personnel on the plane women, but so were the ground crew and flight dispatchers.

Just last month the Delhi High Court ruled that Indian women had a legal right to be deemed heads of their households. This means they now have the right to make family decisions including those concerning property and inheritance.

International Women's Day and Women's History Month provide golden opportunities to celebrate these and other achievements of women. Come join us on Tuesday for a fabulous evening of great company, great food, music, dancing, and a raffle.

Great food and cause

Reservations are required so please call Chin and Sabrina at Flavours today (413-443-3188). Festivities start at 5:30 p.m. The cost is $35 per person (plus tax and tips and cash bar). The buffet dinner will include dishes from both the "Tavern at the A" and "Flavours of Malaysia" menus. There will also be a wide assortment of prizes for both $1/ticket and $5/ticket raffles to be held after dinner.

Proceeds from the event benefit Elizabeth Freeman Center, the county's provider of life and soul-saving services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault where help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week via the toll free hotline at 1-866-401-2425.

Sabrina's special buffets are not to be missed. Join us this Tuesday for fantastic food to benefit a fantastic organization.

Dr. Susan Birns is chairperson of the

sociology/anthropology/social work department at MCLA and secretary of the Board of Directors of the Elizabeth Freeman Center.


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