Our Opinion: Women's Day arrives at a time of real hope

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Today is the 108th anniversary of International Women's Day, which is associated around the globe with the ongoing struggle for women's rights and equality. One might ask why there is a need for a day calling attention to a particular gender, but the posing of that question would betray the asker's ignorance of the historic hardships and unfairness women have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of their male counterparts.

It might surprise Americans marking this day to learn that the first country ever to officially designate IWD was the newly minted Soviet Union in 1917, when women gained the right to vote three years before their counterparts in the U.S. In 1965, the USSR even declared it a non-working holiday to commemorate the contribution of women to Soviet defense in WWII and that nation's economy from its birth. Since that time, IWD was primarily marked in socialist and communist countries until 1975, when the United Nations adopted the holiday, declared March 8 the official day of observance, and thereby stripped it of its political overtones.

In more recent years, participants have attached specific themes to each annual IWD to highlight different aspects of the hurdles women continue to face. The plight of displaced women, the prevention of rape and other forms of sexual violence, empowering women to end world hunger and poverty and other broad but crucially important issues have helped raise world awareness — particularly among men, who do not tend to view these and similar matters as high priorities compared to their own.

The theme for IWD 2019 is #BalanceforBetter — the hashtag in the title being a nod to the newfound importance of social media has built as an instrument of cultural change — gender equality, a greater awareness of discrimination and a celebration of women's achievements. In the U.S. in particular, 2019 observers of all genders might wish to add "the year of women coming into power," for women now hold 102 out of 435 seats in the House of Representatives, an unprecedented number. Once mere curiosities in the capitol's corridors of power, women like freshman politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as well as experienced old hands like Nancy Pelosi, are no longer waiting to be given the reins. In so doing, they are demonstrating that there are other ways to run a country besides the testosterone-driven, zero-sum, winners-and-losers clash of horns that animates not only the legislative branch but the nation's current president. Ideally, more modern era female candidates from the Republican Party will emerge to round out this process.

Issues of inequality like gender-based pay disparities and a misconception among men that women simply can't do any given job except those traditionally thought of as "women's work" will always need addressing. However, developments like women winning national elections, the number of female presidential candidates (declared and undeclared), the blindingly rapid rise of the #metoo movement that has brought the ugly secret of workplace sexual harassment to the fore and the increasing acceptance of women in military combat roles demonstrate that women have accomplished some major cultural strides. Considering that women weren't even allowed to vote a century ago, it's a start — but only a start.

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