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Advocates Archive: International Women's Day (1996-2010)

March 8, 2023

Countries around the world celebrate International Women's Day on March 8 every year. The day was officially recognized by the United Nations in 1977, and it is a national holiday in many countries. The history of International Women's Day has been disputed, but it has evolved into a worldwide celebration of the social, economic, and political achievements of women and a challenge to improve gender parity and the status of women in the future.

At The Advocates for Human Rights, International Women's Day became a day to celebrate the extraordinary diversity of women in Minnesota and the world community they represent. Our first International Women's Day celebration was held in 1996, inspired by the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China.

I was fortunate to be part of The Advocates' delegation to the Beijing Conference. The delegation was comprised of 25 people, including some of the most talented human rights advocates in our community. More than 30,000 people from around the world gathered for the NGO Forum organized in tandem with the government conference. It was an inspiring event highlighting the breathtaking diversity of life experiences that fuel the international women's human rights movement.

The NGO Forum included a broad range of workshop sessions running concurrently throughout the day. The topics of the sessions reflected the Critical Areas of Concern identified in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, including women and health, violence against women, women's political participation, and women and poverty. The sessions were inspiring, compelling, and informative.

At the Forum, I had the opportunity to work with a small group in a session organized by an international NGO dedicated to women's political participation. My group included women from Asia, Africa, South America, and North America. We were able to quickly come up with an agenda that covered the common issues that were most pressing in each of our home communities. Then, as we talked about strategies, it was fascinating to hear how women living in different contexts went about problem solving. It was a dramatic lesson in the value of diverse opinions in creating innovative and effective solutions to intrenched problems.

When we returned from the Beijing Conference, we realized that the same diverse world community was represented in Minnesota. We had people from every continent working through their day-to-day struggles and living in the same community. We had a new understanding about how much we could and should learn from each other.

We decided to replicate the model of the Beijing conference on a smaller scale to recognize International Women's Day on March 8. We used the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action to structure a day of workshops with three or four sessions running concurrently. The first event attracted more than 300 people and grew to more than 800 in 2010. From the very beginning we were able to capture the spirit of the event and create an inspiring program. The most consistent feedback was that there were too many amazing workshops from which to choose and that we should figure out a way for people to attend all of the sessions.

Reflecting back on our International Women's Day event, it served many purposes. In addition to the inspiring programming, we made deep connections with our co-sponsoring partners that provided a strong foundation for our community-based work. For me personally, I will always be grateful for the insights, values and personal stories the participants shared. The event provided a unique view of the world community in Minnesota and the extraordinary contributions each individual brings to it.

Robin Phillips is the executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights. She joined The Advocates in 1995, running the Women's Human Rights Program and developing ground-breaking methodologies for fact-finding, documentation, and sustained partnership-driven advocacy. She loved every one of the fifteen International Women's Day events.

The Advocates is celebrating 40 years of defending human rights. Throughout this year we are sharing stories and projects from our archives to shed light on the history of the organization, and the issues we work on.