All of us can agree that, at its core, International Women’s Day is a celebration of women around the world. However, I believe it also serves as a reminder of the fact that the condition of women around the world can improve, not only at home, but also abroad. It establishes a sense of unity among women around the globe; it allows us to celebrate one another’s accomplishments, as well as recognize one another’s needs.
On a day such as this, one might ask, “What exactly is an international woman?” While the answer to that question may vary from person to person, to me, any woman who is acutely aware of the condition of women in other places can consider herself an international woman. Those who have not traveled or lived abroad are not disqualified from taking up this title by any means; one simply must understand that women everywhere are dealing with different issues and facing their own unique set of challenges.
Along with a unique set of challenges comes a unique set of skills that aid women in leadership roles. The number of qualified women in leadership roles is not nearly as high as it should—or needs—to be, so there is work yet to do on that front. And please, allow me to be clear when I say women are not any better than men. Women do, however, do just as well as men when given the opportunity. Women are wonderful consensus builders. It is a role many of us have been raised to do: to bring consensus within the family and within our community. In a time where everyone and everything seems to be incredibly divisive and we find ourselves on the opposite side of nearly every issue, it’s nice to think of women in a role of bringing these two fractured sides together. We are uniquely designed to do just that.
As many of you know, I will leave for a 27-month Peace Corps assignment in Ukraine, a nation at a pivotal point in its history, in just a few short days. Although I am unsure of who I will be directly working with, the prospect of working with the women of Ukraine is particularly exciting. Great change does not happen without the participation of women. We are essential to societal change. As a student of civil society, you begin to see a pattern emerge: women have served as the backbone of so many of the great movements throughout history. Whether it was the Civil Rights movement, or prison reform, or any of these great issues, the role of women has been terribly important.
In closing, please allow me to express how honored I am that my former colleagues at The International Center wanted to hear my thoughts on International Women’s Day. We have had so many fabulous international women come through Indianapolis in the past, each of whom have opened our eyes to the condition of women around the world. This International Women’s Day, I implore each of you to pause and think about our sisters all around the world and what we can do to help one another grow and thrive.
By Diane Thomas, former President and CEO, The International Center