by MONICA MARCU
On March 8th, about 40 local women, and a few men, gathered to celebrate International Women’s Day, locally organized by Penny Rivard from the Robson Valley Support Society. The Welcome Home Antiques and Giftware, the site of the gathering, was even more vibrant than usual, transformed maybe by the warm feminine energy. The host, Brenda Molendyk, kindly prepared and served light refreshments and snacks, while the ladies had the opportunity to meet and have a relaxed conversation around the table. Besides having fun and honoring each other’s successes, the ladies tried their luck to win a large basket of gifts donated by local woman entrepreneurs. Sweets, cosmetics, preserves, teas, seeds and other surprises were nicely wrapped in a colorful present for the lucky winner. And the lucky winner was Ann Schwartz, the owner of the McBride Robson Valley Pet Hostel, who also happened to celebrate her birthday on 8th of March. Happy coincidence!
A long list posted on the wall showcased the local women entrepreneurs: over 20 businesses, too many to be included here. Rivard, who dedicates her energy to the cause of stopping violence against women (and men), shared with me that her sister, Glow Lemon, was and remains her inspiration. While still in the elementary school, Glow wrote a petition and gathered signatures to allow girls to wear jeans or leotards underneath skirts. The petition was successful – girls could stay warmer! What is normal today was a big deal in the 60’s; how often we tend to forget the continuous fight and struggle of women for equal rights at work or else. We are still far from fairness or justice for women in most parts of the world. Penny recounts her sister’s activism with a lot of passion, while sparks of pride enlighten her eyes. She recounts it vividly, like it was yesterday.
It reminds me of my sister, and our days of celebrating 8th of March, ourselves, with my mother. In my home country, as well as most parts of Europe and Russia, 8th March was festively observed and prepared weeks in advance. Newspapers, TV and radio stations, and the media in general had special coverage and warm wishes for all women of all ages on that day. There were flowers everywhere; you could see men and boys with flowers in the buses, on the streets, at schools, in the factories. Fathers, brothers, lovers, sons, little boys, would-be boyfriends – they all, smilingly, had something blossoming and colorful to offer to that special woman in their life. Even the cemeteries were flooded with bouquets.
It seemed that the whole world and day were a celebration of spring and love.
We, as kids, used to prepare months in advance sophisticated handicraft at school, ready for the big day when we could share our present, and gratefully, once again, hug our dear mothers. Cards and best wishes were delivered everywhere and the mailman had one of the toughest working day – unless, of course she was a… woman. In most places, after being celebrated, women were also offered a half day off, to enjoy it with their families.
International Women’s Day, first called International Working Women’s Day, is celebrated on March 8th in many countries, but the earliest celebration was held in 1909, in New York, in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union. The Eastern Bloc adopted early the event, while March 8th was declared a national holiday in the Soviet Union in 1917.
For 2016, the International Women’s Day theme was “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.” Will that be achieved? It remains to be seen.