One hundred years ago, International Women's Day was celebrated for the first time. A poem written in 1911 by James Oppenheim shows how basic the needs of women were in that long-ago time:
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler -- ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!
As we prepare for International Women's Day on March 8, the lesson of "the rising of the women means the rising of the race" is yet to be embraced by all nations. And yet the presence of women in Tahrir Square in Cairo and in Tunisia and other hot spots around the world attests to the change women are making in the world.
Women Deliver today released the Women Deliver 100, a list of the one hundred most inspiring people who have delivered for girls and women. The list recognizes women and men, both prominent and lesser known, from the fields of health, human rights, politics, education, journalism and philanthropy. The honorees represent a great diversity of geographic and cultural backgrounds. Check out the list and see how many names you recognize, and how many are worthy of your thanks.
"The work of these heroes is informed not just by boundless vision, but also by pragmatism," said Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women and Chair of the Women Deliver 2010 conference. "They both understand and defy current power structures - and they will stop at nothing to make changes that improve the daily existence of women everywhere."
The delightful part of reading through the list of honorees is the unexpectedness of acknowledging both men and women for their contributions, and the fact that many of the names are both unpronounceable and unfamiliar. It's a welcome relief from the same old, same old. The Women Deliver 100 are physicians, politicians, the heads of nonprofits, educators, midwives, advocates and business leaders. The names are lyrical - Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Lydia Alpizar Duran, Leymah Gbowee, Geeta Rao Gupta, Xie Lihua, Imtiaz Kamal - alongside those who we already know such as Nicholas Kristof, Hillary Clinton and Melinda Gates. For each name, it is easy to picture thousands of girls and women whose lives are brighter.
In many parts of the world, International Women's Day is a national holiday and, in some countries, men give small gifts to their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters on March 8. Here in the US, the date has begun gaining traction only recently. The Women Deliver list is fun to read, inspiring to consider the contributions made by the 100 individuals who made the list. But it's also an opportunity for each of us to consider whose names we would add to the list. Are there heroes in your community or life who have made a huge impact on improving the lives of women and girls?
I would add the name of Amy Coen, former president of Population Action International and longtime advocate for women's health, who died just this week of cancer. She had met many on the Women Deliver list and surely would have considered herself unworthy. But, as much as anyone, she believed in sharing life's glories.
I would love to know who you think should be added to the Women Deliver 100. And I hope on March 8 you consider offering bread and roses to the women in your life.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!