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League celebrates international women’s day

The+International+Womens+Day+celebration+was+held+at+Hotel+Grinnell+on+Thursday+evening.+Photo+by+Elena+Copell.
The International Women’s Day celebration was held at Hotel Grinnell on Thursday evening. Photo by Elena Copell.
The International Women’s Day celebration was held at Hotel Grinnell on Thursday evening. Photo by Elena Copell.

On Thursday, March 8, the Grinnell League of Women Voters hosted their third annual International Women’s Day celebration. This year, the event was co-sponsored by S.H.E. Counts and took place at Hotel Grinnell.

The idea of celebrating International Women’s Day in Grinnell came to Terese Grant, co-president of Grinnell’s League of Women Voters chapter, when she was first introduced to the holiday while teaching in China and Ukraine.

“In other places in the world, [International Women’s Day] is kind of a big deal,” Grant said, adding that in many countries women are given special recognition, gifts and sometimes even the day off. In Ukraine, Grant recounted, the teachers received boxes of chocolates. Upon her return to the United States, Grant thought, “well, why don’t we do it here?”

S.H.E. Counts, the event’s co-sponsor, is an organization whose mission is to support girls and women in Grinnell, specifically girls whose parents never attended college. “S.H.E.” is an acronym for “supporting, helping and empowering,” which is exactly what S.H.E. Counts aims to do. The organization partners with first-generation Grinnell College students, who help the younger girls with math, introduce them to the possibility of attending college and support them in making that possibility a reality. The proceeds from the International Women’s Day event supported the S.H.E. Counts Endowment Fund, which the foundation uses to provide a $500 yearly scholarship for a first-generation Grinnell high school girl to attend college.

The first year that the League of Women Voters hosted this event, they focused on celebrating the women of Grinnell. Last year, they focused on celebrating the future generation of women. This year’s theme was “Press for Progress,” and columnist Rekha Basu of the Des Moines Register was the keynote speaker.

In an email to The S&B before the event, Basu noted that the talk offered an opportunity to build upon the themes of her book, “Finding Her Voice.” The book is a compilation of Basu’s articles on women in the Midwest who have shared their stories about facing adversity or injustice. 

“In a larger way, those stories illustrate that women’s ongoing struggle for equal rights is not just a problem in other countries like Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, but right here in America, and in Iowa,” she wrote. “Patriarchy and good old boy systems endure in spite of all the progress women have made.” The process of sharing their stories, Basu noted, empowers these women. 

Basu’s concern for gender equality began at an early age. Both her parents worked in the UN, advocating for human rights, and her mother was particularly involved in the international women’s rights movement. Growing up reading Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, Basu became aware of the slew of injustices women face — including pay inequity, sexual violenceand discrimination — while also noticing how sexism affected her personally. 

“Like most girls, I think, I had to overcome a certain lack of confidence and feelings of being an imposter when I succeeded at something,” Basu wrote.

According to Basu, International Women’s Day has not traditionally been observed in the United States due to its socialist origins and its affiliation with the labor movement. However, both Basu and Grant agree that the holiday is extremely relevant to the modern political climate of the U.S., particularly in the context of the growing #MeToo movement. 

To Grant, celebrating International Women’s Day is about recognizing how far women have come, while also recognizing that we still have a long way to go in the fight for equality.

Basu, like Grant, hopes to illustrate the importance of celebrating International Women’s Day in Grinnell. “I hope women will come away with a sense of how interconnected our fates as women are and the importance of global sisterhood. … Mostly, I hope every woman will feel encouraged to use her voice to speak her truth and help build a more equitable, more just and more humane society.”

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