International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global celebration that occurs yearly on March 8. Launched in the early 1900s, IWD was created to educate, empower and galvanize women into action. Back then, the day was set aside to campaign for women’s right to vote, to be educated, to work, to hold public offices and end discrimination.

 

Today, women now hold public offices, are well educated, and have the right to work and vote. However, there are still some issues that remain unresolved such as gender inequality. In a speech at the United Nations on the eve of IWD, former United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton told the audience that “gender inequality remains the great unfinished business of the 21st century. No country in the world, including my own, has achieved full participation.”

 

This year, a new organization for women, WomenWerk, created a dynamic two-part program, a daytime forum and an evening gala, to celebrate and observe IWD in New York City. Founded by Demi Ajayi and Nekpen Osuan in November 2013, the theme for their first ever IWD celebration last Saturday, March 8 was “The Century of the African Woman.”

 

Their day-time forum featured a dynamic group of women leaders such as MacDella Cooper of the MacDella Cooper Foundation,  renowned author Nana Brew-Hammond, Lillian Ajayi of the Global Connections for Women Foundation, and Anie Akpe Lewis, founder of tech start up Innov8tiv. The gala was hosted by our very own Ijeoma Genevieve Mbamalu of MUI- The PR Company alongside New York City’s leading Afrobeats deejay, DJ Universe!

 

With over 300 guests in attendance both at the forum and gala elements of the celebration, the day-long affair for the WomenWerk organization was a huge success. At the gala, African women leaders and their supporters, were recognized and presented with awards for their work to alleviate issues women face around the world.  Some of the honorees were President Bill Clinton; Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Nigeria’s minister of finance; Dr. Mehret Mandefro, filmmaker and president of  Truth Aid, a media production and consulting firm; and Mo Abudu, founder of EbonyLife TV, Africa’s first global black multi-broadcast entertainment network.

(Related: Demi and Nekpen Launch WomenWerk In Honor of International Women’s Day)

 

This writer was fortunate to have been a part of the IWD celebration hosted by WomenWerk.  She was also one of the privileged few who got a rare opportunity to interview some of the important dignitaries at the gala last Saturday evening.

 

1.     What past, present or future projects are you involved in that address women’s issues?

 

Bob Brunner, VP at Arik Air International:

We sponsor a lot of similar events where women are either honored, recognized, promoted, and given an opportunity to present their businesses in areas, such as fashion. We were recently at a fashion show where a lot of women presented their designs. We do a lot in promoting programs especially ones geared towards Africans, not specifically women-focused, but sometimes women are the highlights.

 

Folake Ayoola, Esq., Senior Counsel at US Securities & Exchange Commission:

Regarding WomenWerk, I am one of the host members and was on the panel earlier today speaking about women’s issues to young professionals. I am the founder of AfriMETRO, Inc., an organization that provides a forum to African professionals in the United States. I have volunteered with Dress for Success, an organization that focuses on women in the workplace and provides them with clothing and mentoring. I was one of the mentors.

 

Oyeronke Oyewumi, PhD, Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University:

I wrote a book called “The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses.” In this book, I historicized the issues of gender in the Yoruba society of Nigeria as a way of contributing to the international literature about the ways our society was organized before colonization. Arguments I raised in that women include many issues regarding the subordination of women that can be blamed on colonization. I also have an edited book called “African Women and Feminism: Reflecting on the Politics of Sisterhood.” In this book, myself and other contributors examined the notion of sisterhood and the way women related with each other and their roles in the society. I have another edited book called “African Gender Studies” that is used by many to teach gender courses. My own type of activism has been in the academy because I have this desire to create knowledge and produce more work that is informed by African experiences, so that our daughters will have access to courses, writings, and books that will force them to think.

 

2.     What are your thoughts about IWD and what does the platform mean to you?

 

Bob Brunner, VP at Arik Air International:

First of all, we cannot exist without women. Women are the cores of families; they keep families together, and as an airline, we promote travel. One of the biggest reasons people travel is to bring families together. So, women being a large part of the decision-making and a large part of those that control the families’ economy, they make a lot of decision about where they are going, when they are going, and how they are getting there. So, we need to be part of that conversation because women are incredibly important to our success.

 

Folake Ayoola, Esq., Senior Counsel at US Securities & Exchange Commission:

IWD started in 1908 as a political movement for the universal suffrage of women for them to have the right to vote and have some economic power. Over the years, a lot have been achieved, so a day like today is for us to celebrate women, celebrate past accomplishments, past victories, and celebrate women currently doing amazing things. We use today to question what other challenges we have and how to tackle them. So, today is a day that celebrates the past, acknowledges what’s going on in the present and looks to the future to see what we can do to make the future better for us and those coming behind us. I am a feminist, but there’s a lot that goes into what feminism means. As a feminist, today is very important to me.

 

Oyeronke Oyewumi, PhD, Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University:

Well, it’s just like Mother’s Day; you wish every day was Mother’s Day or every month was Black History Month. The reason why this day was created had to deal with history of exclusion. If women weren’t subordinated or discriminated against, there would be no reason for this day. So, we recognize that there’s a need for a day like this because it is important for us to come together and renew our relationships, solidarity and raise our consciousness about what should be next, and what we should be doing to overcome all types of inequality.

 

 

3.     Workplace discrimination, domestic violence and gender inequality are some of the issues women have to contend with on a daily basis. In your opinion, is there any truth to this? Or do you think that there are more dire challenges women faces today?

 

Bob Brunner, VP at Arik Air International:

I certainly know that within Arik Air, where I have some influence and control, we don’t have these kinds of issues. Everyone gets paid the same amount for his or her job, and I think that’s how it should be. I recognize the difficulties of that sometimes because how do you measure people with five years experience or people with no experience? On a case-by-case basis, there are probably some issues, but I’m glad not to be a part of it.

 

Folake Ayoola, Esq., Senior Counsel at US Securities & Exchange Commission:

There are a lot issues women are still facing around the world, especially in countries where women are denied education, still can’t own properties, and are forced to remain in an abusive relationships because they do not have the economic resources to support themselves. We still have reproductive issues, where women are prejudiced because of their decisions. In [the] workplace, there are still some biases where women are penalized for taking maternity leaves. For women of color, the issues are more compounded because there’s an intersection of race and gender. They face general women issues and also face issues specific for women of color. I think society has done a lot in addressing gender issues but not enough in addressing issues unique to women of color.

 

Oyeronke Oyewumi, PhD, Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook:

The question of inequality is not found in only one sphere. If you look at different phases in life, women, black women, and Africans face all kinds of inequities, and I think it is important even as we are talking about gender inequalities to focus on the way gender, racial, and class inequalities work together to keep people down. Women still face a lot of issues, including reproduction and lack of good medical care, but what this tells me is that we must build bridges. We must work together to build allies with people fighting against other forms of inequalities.

 

For more information on WomenWerk’s annual Forum and Gala, visit their website www.womenwerk.com and follow them on Twitter @womenwerk.

 

Please share your thoughts towards International Women’s Day with us below or tweet me @LindaAmaechi.