“We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.” –Malala Yousafzai
International Women’s Day is a celebration of women all over the world and their social, economic, political and cultural accomplishments. It is a chance to bring light to issues that women face in order to raise awareness and influence change. It is likely that you have seen merchandise and hashtags around this event, but understanding how it came to be may be less familiar.
It all began Feb 28, 1908 with roughly 1500 women, many of which were garment workers, gathering in the streets of New York City to rally for things like pay equity, shorter work hours and suffrage. The following year, women, with the backing of the Socialist Party of America, marched on that same day. They set out to start conversation and challenge the status quo. They realized that speaking out was difficult but necessary and decided to choose the challenge.
“Always concentrate on how far you have come, rather than how far you have left to go. The difference in how easy it seems will amaze you.” — Heidi Johnson
A movement this impactful did not stay confined to the United States. By 1910 the momentum had created a global voice suggesting a day be set aside each year to demonstrate and celebrate in solidarity for women all over the world. Women spanning 17 countries agreed and so was the start of International Women’s Day. Just one year later in 1911, one million women and men in Europe supported International Women’s Day by attending rallies or demonstrations. Although this conversation and its momentum took place in February all those years ago, we celebrate them in honor of an event, led by women, that was a major catalyst for change.
On March 8, 1917, the stand for Bread and Peace in the midst of war was orchestrated by women in Russia. The stand these women took lead to the abdication of the czar and suffrage for women was granted. This group of women who chose to challenge what was the norm at the time are now credited for setting the Russian Revolution in motion. Their stance and action were honored when the United Nations chose March 8 to serve as the official International Women’s day holiday in their honor.
Each year a new theme is chosen to further highlight the need for International Women’s Day. Over the past couple of years those themes radiated the message of moving forward, pushing on and being the change. This year’s theme is Choose to Challenge. It is a call to action in the realm of gender bias and inequality. According to the International Women’s Day website, “We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can help create an inclusive world.”
“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. … It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Practicing inclusivity requires compassion and empathy. It requires us to be able to connect and see ourselves in others. It demands our attention so we do not become complacent and lack the foresight needed to see exclusion. It demands our attention and therefore becomes a product of living a mindful existence.
We can use mindfulness to build skills in the area of active listening and empathetic conversation; the practice of being attentive and responsive to others’ input during conversation. Listening empathetically creates emotional connections with the person with whom you are speaking. It encourages identifying similarities between their experiences and your own. Doing this allows for less defensiveness and a more heartfelt response. It may help to think of yourself as a mirror to the other person. As you repeat back the thoughts and feelings of the person speaking to you and convey their message through non-verbal behaviors and body language, your response becomes one of inclusion and comradery. It is almost as if to say, “I understand how you feel. I am interested in what you have to say. I am not judging you. I am here for you and the problem you are facing. You are not alone.”
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” —Eleanor Roosevelt
Knowing you are not alone can help build courage and resilience to do the hard things in spite of the fear. Mindfulness allows us to notice the sensations, thoughts and emotions in our bodies, identify them and then set back and see them but not let them define us. Mindfulness allows us to acknowledge the fear, worry and uncertainty that come with speaking up, but help us find the way to do what needs to be done. Connecting to the anchor of our breath can elicit calm and courage, wrapped up and intertwined. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the ability to embrace the fear and transform it mindfully into action. It is the ability to do what you know is right despite the fear.
Conscious breathing and meditation can actually help you retrain the brain and remain calm. Doing this can help you resist the fight, flight, freeze response fear would have us default to. Having more control over this will likely encourage thoughtful action, which in turn elicits courage and motivation to continue moving forward.
How can you practice this and be a part of the new revolution? What can you #choosetochallenge?
Stay on the lookout for some of our mindfulness teachers and their #choosetochallenge statement, raising their hands as if to say, count me in!