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International Women's Day

International Women's Day Shows How Women Can Help Women Succeed

By Jane Morse
Staff Writer

Washington - "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants," the world's great scientific intellectual Isaac Newton wrote in 1676. The accomplishments of women, too, owe much to the "giants" who preceded them - women who bravely endured painful ridicule and overcame huge obstacles to obtain the same opportunities afforded to men.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8, which recognizes women's past struggles and accomplishments and focuses on what needs to be done to provide greater opportunities for women today.

International Women's Day is an official holiday in 15 countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam). But most countries celebrate the day with thousands of events. According to the official website for International Women's Day, the countries sponsoring the most events for International Women's Day are the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia and Ireland.

Each country picks a different theme every year to reflect global and local gender issues. In the United States, the 2011 theme is "Our History Is Our Strength."

Among the thousands of Americans who blazed trails for women are Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to achieve a medical degree in the United States (1849); Susanna Madora Salter, the first woman elected to any political office in the United States when she was voted mayor of Argonia, Kansas, in 1887; Jane Addams, political activist and women's advocate, the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize (1931); and Shirley Chisholm, who became in 1968 the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress.

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Women today continue to make history and are providing the "broad shoulders" upon which other women can see further into a future of wider possibilities. Condoleezza Rice, the first African-American woman to hold the position of U.S. secretary of state, established the Women of Courage award in 2007 to honor women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage in promoting women's rights. So far, 36 women representing 27 countries have been recognized for their efforts to further women's rights, end violence against women and promote women's health.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the current secretary of state and the first woman to become a leading candidate for the U.S. presidential nomination when she ran against Barack Obama, has been a longtime women's advocate. She has joined President Obama in aggressively promoting women's issues both in the United States and abroad.

Early in his presidency, President Obama created a position at the White House, now held by Lynn Rosenthal, to advise the president and vice president on domestic violence and sexual assault issues in the United States. The president also created a new position at the U.S. State Department: ambassador-at-large for global women's issues. Melanne Verveer, who has a long career working for the advancement of women, was appointed to that position to mobilize support worldwide for women's rights and to combat violence against women and girls in all its forms.

For 2011, Clinton is launching the "100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges" and a new maternal- and child-health initiative. Clinton has said that the United States "is making women a cornerstone of foreign policy because we think it's the right thing to do, but we also believe it's the smart thing to do as well."

"Investing in the potential of the world's women and girls," according to Clinton, "is one of the surest ways to achieve global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for women - and men - the world over."


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