International Women’s Day has been around since before American women could vote, but observance of the day varies throughout the world.
According to Terry McGovern, professor and chair of population and family health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, that’s what makes the day unique.
“There’s not an imposed agenda. It allows women to define what the day means for them, and what needs to happen for them to achieve equality,” he said in a Tuesday National Public Radio blog article written by Malaka Gharib.
Utah County has only just recently started officially celebrating the day, but the variety of events is evident. In Provo’s second official observance of the day Wednesday, there was a plethora of options for celebrating and honoring women.
The day started at the Provo Municipal Council Chambers with a series of presentations by local women business and organization leaders. The topics ranged from mental health awareness to the gender pay gap, and from experiences of and resources for marginalized populations to creating a successful business. The topics were wide ranging, because women of all colors, ethnicities, skills and education levels touch upon many aspects of life — even when their contributions go unnoticed.
“We’re here,” explained Meredith Lam, director of American Indian Education for Provo City School District, “to make the invisible, visible.”
Deidrene Crisanto, a 23-year-old Brigham Young University student from Oregon, spoke of navigating invisibility and visibility throughout her life. She is Filipino-American, and has often had to answer to society’s questions and prejudices just because of her physical traits.
“As a woman of color, it is hard for people to see you as a complete picture. I’m a woman of color, but I’m a whole person. But people often only see the one brush stroke,” Crisanto said.
She said she’s often felt like she wears an invisibility cloak because people see through or around her. But she’s also felt like she stands out. Crisanto recalled feeling like people expect her to be a walking encyclopedia about her culture, its history, and racism in general.
“It’s extremely exhausting to answer for an entire population,” she said.
Among her peers, Crisanto said she still feels different because many millennials experience wanderlust and the desire to “find themselves in some foreign place.”
“I’ve only ever felt foreign. I’ve always longed for the familiar,” she said.
All of Provo’s events Wednesday seemed to center on this same theme of making visible women’s traits, abilities and contributions. After the morning’s lecture series, the day was filled with yoga classes, Mommy & Me activity classes, a session focused on using the internet for good, a ladies bicycling ride, a Zumba class, a sold-out screening of the movie, “Suffragette,” and a late night party.
Young girls got involved as well. The first-ever Provo Girls Summit at the Provo City Library at Academy Square boasted hundreds of girls and about 20 professional women presenters. The summit, with the theme ‘If she can see it, she can be it,” showed elementary-aged girls that there were many other careers outside the regular gender-acceptable ones. With women representing careers ranging from art to engineering, the girls validated their personal career dreams and found new ones to explore.
For the many businesses, Provo city employees and volunteers involved in all of the day’s events, the hope was for women of all ages to embrace their identity and realize their worth.
“People are always questioning their identity based on things they can’t change,” Cristano summarized. “But love is about being seen. And seeing is love of self, love of identity, and love of community.”