Stop a woman on the street today -- anybody from a CEO to a high school student -- to question when International Women's Day is celebrated, and you may very well receive an indifferent shrug of the shoulders. The approaching holiday, intended to celebrate women's accomplishments and progress, still remains an unknown to many modern American women.
March 8th will mark the 102nd International Women's Day, and after over a century of its existence, I believe the time has come to begin using this day to get fired up and motivated in our endeavors for gender equality. On this day we all need to spread the message of women's empowerment to our friends, family and men in our lives. We need to learn from our women pioneers, and we need to use this day as a catalyst to promote real tangible change for women in need.
This March 8th and the days leading up to it, let's all seek inspiration from the women who act as though every day is International Women's Day. These are the women trailblazers of our time like the Hillarys, the Malalas, and the Sheryl Sandbergs. They are all crafting a roadmap to gender equality, and it is up to us what we do with it.
We can find inspiration in 15-year-old Malala's fearless courage in the face of the Taliban. Her bravery was met with media attention that propelled the Pakistani government to create the most concrete action for gender equality in years. Malala turned the Taliban's inconceivable hatred into concrete action -- now the "I am Malala" campaign seeks to put all children, including girls, in elementary schools by 2015.
Or we can look to Hillary Clinton who has traveled to 112 countries in the last four years, more than any other Secretary of State in our nation's history. She has put women's rights at the forefront of every trip, like approaching Burma after a 50-year estrangement to speak with the prime minister and Aung San Suu Kyi. She has encouraged bills like the Violence Against Women Act, and helped to create a full time position at the White House for Melanne Verveer as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues. Together they have navigated Tunisia, Egypt, Burma, and Libya with a gender lens that has had such a positive influence.
Or we can look to the ever-growing world of women's philanthropy. Jacki Zehner understands that in the United States women still earn approximately 77 cents to the male dollar, yet women globally control $20 trillion in investment dollars and are 9 percent of the world's billionaires. Networks like Women Moving Millions and the Thirty Percent Coalition work to get women to collaborate on these issues.
Sheryl Sandberg, at Davos, made strides forward as a powerhouse mom. She was one of six co-chairs of the forum, the rest were men. I have found such truth in her statement that women "internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives, the messages that say it's wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men... We continue to do the majority of the housework and childcare. We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet."
Women like this have shown us that we cannot just be bystanders, we need to be outspoken and active. Since the first International Women's Day there have been innumerable glass ceilings broken and rights acquired. But the truth is that we have much more work to do. Still of the world's 1.3 billion poor people, it is estimated that nearly 70 percent are women. Between 75 percent and 80 percent of the world's 27 million refugees are women and children. And of the world's nearly 130 million children who are not in school, two-thirds are girls.
With these disheartening statistics in mind along with the inspiration from our women pioneers, let's make this year's International Women's Day a call to action. When people join together they can make a movement as powerful as what recently occurred in India, where the government passed a sweeping legislation to crack down on violence against women after the horrific rape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi. These women in India, and in all burgeoning democracies, need to hear as many voices as possible to strengthen their argument. Our voices in America need to transcend borders, they need to support, echo, and make louder the concerns of women being oppressed all over the world.
So on March 8th, it is time for us to join forces, shop ethically, and work to make more women leaders around the world. At the very least, make you and your friends aware of the day. Don't let someone catch you on the street, question when International Women's Day occurs and shrug it off. Rather, use the day to get fired up about women's rights and empowerment, and use the day to promote change in the lives of women all over the world.