Editor's note: Tuesday, March 8, is International Women's Day.
Growing up, I remember hearing “women's libbers” decry the unequal status of women in America. For me, it rang hollow. Aren’t women fully equal to men? Women attend college, have careers if they choose, vote. Sure, maybe when International Women’s Day was founded a hundred years ago, women didn't have all the same opportunities, but that has changed. Women have all the same rights and opportunities as men...right?
Which begs the question: What is International Women's Day really about nowadays?
A recent experience brought the answer to this question into sharp focus.
I was traveling in Mexico, visiting beneficiaries of World Vision's microloan program, when I met Maricella. She started her own business a couple of years ago, a roadside stand along the main thoroughfare in front of her home.
Now, through the help of microloans, her shop is in its own cinder-block building. She added a refrigerator, so she can sell cold sodas, and a large display of food, snacks, and other household necessities.
When I met her, Maricella showed us her store with pride, and then eagerly introduced her five daughters. She told me she used to worry because education for girls is considered an unnecessary luxury. Women are not often respected in her community, she tells us.
“Now, the men treat me differently,” she says. “They respect me because they see I can run a business as well as any man.”
Karen with Maricella and three of her daughters in Maricella's shop in Mexico. (WV/2010)
What’s more, her oldest daughter is nearly 15 years old. She would be expected to marry within the next year. Instead, thanks to extra income from her mother's business, she will stay in school until she graduates.
Less than two weeks after returning home from Mexico, I attended the wedding of my own daughter. As she and her new husband plan their lives together, their first order of business will be relocating across the state so my daughter can finish graduate school.
I can’t help but contrast my life to Maricella’s. We share many of the same hopes and dreams for our daughters — a good education, a kind husband, fulfilled potential. But my daughter and I had the good fortune to be born into a country where women are educated equally and treated as equals. In fact, in the United States, more women earn college degrees than men.
For me, International Women's Day is about celebrating women like Maricella. It's about the wide-open future of her daughters, and my daughter. It's about celebrating and honoring the achievements of women past, women present, and women future.
This International Women's Day, World Vision Micro is honoring women all over the world by celebrating their business achievements, and investing in a poverty-free future of women entrepreneurs. With the gift of a small microloan, a woman can start or expand her business, providing extra income that can give her access to essentials like healthcare, nutritious food for her family, an education for her children, and the opportunity to save money for the future. Celebrate International Women's Day by donating a loan for a woman entrepreneur at www.worldvisionmicro.org/iwd.