March 8, International Women’s Day, has been celebrated in many ways since the early 20th century.
It began as demonstrations by people all over the globe agitating for a woman’s right to vote, to hold public office and for gender equality. The United Nations began sponsoring IWD in 1975 and now works for a broad range of women’s rights, economic parity and political power. This year’s theme is: “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.“
It is the hallmark of just how difficult it is to achieve equality for women that a International Women’s Day is just as important today as it was 100 years ago and is as important here in Snohomish County as it is in Saudi Arabia, South Africa, or Guatemala. After all, the United States has never signed on to recognizing the day nor has it ever signed on to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and this is the 21st century.
We at the Zonta Club of Everett, a chapter of Zonta International, have been doing what we can to empower the women of Snohomish County for 86 years! With Zonta International we work to improve women’s lives globally as well as locally through chapters in over 60 countries and over 30,000 members. We, in our corner of the world, do what we can to help women break the cycle of poverty, powerlessness and violence which unfortunately often go together.
We believe the best way to improve life in any village or social group is to educate the women and girls. It has been seen again and again, educate the women and the whole village (town, city, world) does better.
At our February meeting we distributed $20,000 in grants to six area nonprofit agencies’ programs geared particularly to women. These included:
A Cocoon House project providing housing for homeless teen mothers;
Citrine Health’s post-mastectomy free brassiere fitting and provision;
Domestic Violence Services program for housing for single women victims of intimate partner violence;
Monroe Gospel Mission’s program providing safe housing for women recovering from substance abuse;
Village Community Services’ Inclusive Entrepreneurs Program, which helps people with disabilities to own and run their own business; and
YWCA’s Pathways to Work, a program to help women achieve economic self-sufficiency.
We provide Women in Transition grants every year for women who suddenly find themselves single head of household and need more education in order to qualify for work that will allow them to support their families. We give $3,000 to two successful applicants each year and the money goes directly to the schools in which they are enrolled. These relatively small amounts make a really big difference in these women’s lives and it has been very rewarding to see them move on to university degrees and graduate school.
In solidarity with International Women’s Day our small club also donates $10,000 a year to Zonta International projects in several far-flung countries, which include helping a fistula repair (severe childbirth injury) hospital in Liberia, a gender equity in education project in Vietnam grade schools, violence abatement programs in Central America and a project dedicated to eliminating HIV transmission from mother to infant at birth in Rwanda.
Zonta of Everett keeps from getting discouraged about the glacial pace of change by recognizing that for this woman we have empowered her to make truly big changes for the better in her life. We will keep making these changes, one woman at a time until we achieve not just gender equality, but a better life for our whole village.
Dr. Suzanne Poppema, president of Zonta Club of Everett, is a family physician and emerita associate clinical professor at the University of Washington.