On March 7 at 6:30 p.m., members of the New Paltz community will gather in Lecture Center 100 to celebrate International Women’s Day, a worldwide event devoted to the defense of women’s rights and commemoration of achievements in the long-winded battle against sexism.
Each year on March 8, thousands of events are held across the globe to inspire women by raising awareness of discrimination. But these events also acknowledge successes in the fight. Originating in the early 1900s, International Women’s Day is honored as an official holiday in 27 countries, from Uganda to Russia to Afghanistan, according to the official website. Though it is not an official holiday in the U.S., the day aims to connect women all around the world, regardless of age, background or social standing. This year, New Paltz is ready for the celebration.
The March 7 public forum will feature expert speakers, entertainment, and an evening of awareness and inspiration, according to event coordinator Donna Goodman.
“We thought we won women’s rights in the 1970s,” Goodman, a lifelong feminist and activist, said, “but the truth is that now more than ever, we need to finish what we started and pick up where the ‘70s left off.”
The event, which hasn’t been held on the New Paltz campus since 1996, is endorsed by 49 organizations throughout the Hudson Valley and will address four areas of women’s rights, Goodman said.
The first section introduces the event, emphasizing building a social movement and re-energizing the fight for equality.
Reproductive rights activist Rickie Solinger will follow with a discussion on women’s reproduction, which, Goodman assured, will go far beyond heated debates on contraception and abortion.
“Solinger will also discuss the right to keep a child or give them up for adoption,” Goodman said. Other topics include “A right to prenatal care, lack of ‘family leave’ from your job, and a right to daycare.”
Following Solinger, executive director of the NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Gwen Wright, will speak on violence against women, citing statistics and legislation, and explaining how social movements and government can support each other to achieve mutual goals.
The final section will address the topic of women in the workplace and the gender inequality that accompanies it, featuring speaker Beth Soto, executive director of the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation.
In addition to presenting compelling speakers, Goodman said she and fellow organizers are developing the cultural aspect of the event. They will feature slam poetry from local artist and poet Mira Bowin and a musical performance from members of the all-female a capella group The Sexy Pitches. Organizers plan to project historical video footage demonstrating the journey of women’s rights. The entertainment portions will be interspersed among the eight speakers, and the forum will conclude with an open discussion.
Goodman is spearheading the New Paltz International Women’s Day event, but the full organizing team consists of a dozen women from the surrounding community, including a woman from Woodstock, a faculty member from Marist, and fourth-year SUNY New Paltz student Barbara Cvenic.
Cvenic, one of two student organizers, said she served as a connection between campus and the larger community. Along with student Caitlin O’Donnel, Cvenic contacted campus organizations to endorse the event and brought a “younger voice” to the team’s weekly meetings, held at Cafeteria on Main St.
Cvenic, an interpersonal/intercultural communications major and international relations minor, said she was surprised at the origins of International Women’s Day, which was started by U.S. female garment workers.
“I assumed it began in Europe because I grew up celebrating it with my family every year, even after I moved to the U.S.,” said Cvenic, who lived in Bosnia until she was five. “I didn’t expect it to have started here in the U.S. It came out of a worker’s movement… I think we forget the contributions workers have made, and that we need to work at empowering workers and empowering women.”
The national call to organize an event for International Women’s Day came from Women Organized to Resist and Defend (WORD), an organization Goodman collaborated with to host a women’s rights rally in New Paltz on Aug. 26, 2012. The rally drew more than 300 people, making it one of the nation’s largest, and inspired Goodman to host an event in honor of International Women’s Day seven months later.
Though the International Women’s Day event was organized quickly- “In about six weeks!” Goodman said– organizers said they hope for a promising turnout and an even more promising impact on the local community.
“We’re hoping this event makes New Paltz a model for other communities,” Goodman said. “That they will see us do this, and then they’ll be inspired to take action and stand up for something.”
International Women’s Day will be held on March 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the Lecture Center Room 100.
For live coverage of the event, click here.
Learn about why Barbara Cvenic is drawn to activism here.
A Brief History of International Women’s Day and Women’s Rights: