Celebrating women from all over

BY LINI GE | MARCH 6, 2009 7:22 AM

One day a year, women take off work and receive gifts from their employers and flowers from their families and friends.

Not in Iowa, but in Anna Lipnik’s home country, Ukraine, the nation annually celebrates International Women’s Day on March 8.

“Generally, it’s a day when women, regardless of their ages or marital status, are expecting to be pleasantly surprised by men or boys at home, work, and school,” said the UI graduate student in comparative literature, who expects to receive flowers from her husband March 8, and plans to send e-cards to her friends in Ukraine and a present to her mother.

Celebration of International Women’s Day dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, when labor and socialist organizations in Europe and the United States marched to protest for greater female equality in the workplace. The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8, 1975.

“Over the years, International Women’s Day has become a day to celebrate the unique achievements of women around the world, and a celebration of the contributions women make to all societies,” said Kate Karacay, Iowa United Nations Association co-director.

The day is celebrated in Oman at many public lectures, where women’s contributions to the society are recognized, said Asila Al Ma’Awali, a visiting Fulbright scholar from Oman who teaches an advanced Arabic class at the UI.

“This day means a lot for me here because I can say to everybody that I am a ‘live example’ of a Muslim Arab woman who had the chance to come to this country,” Al Ma’Awali said. “This in itself is like a celebration for me.”

As a Muslim woman, Al Ma’Awali said she has sensed some stereotypical conceptions since moving to Iowa that women in Muslim countries generally hold a lower social status than men. In response, Al Ma’Awali said she would explain a wide array of civil and political liberties that Omani Muslim women enjoy.

In the West, women’s status has also improved overall since early 1970s, said Elizabeth Heineman, a UI associate professor at the Department of History and a sexuality studies advisor at the Department of Women’s Studies. Women have achieved higher levels of education, have had better job opportunities, and have had access to better legal tools to challenge rape and domestic violence since then, she added.

But Heineman cautioned despite all the improvements, gender equality “remains a long way off” in Iowa.

“Iowa is one of the only two states that have never had a female governor or senator,” Heineman said. “The pay gap between women and men in Iowa is worse than the national average, even though Iowa women are more likely than Iowa men to have some post-secondary education.”

Full-time female employees in Iowa earn an average of $0.78 for every $1 earned by their male counterparts in the same occupation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A 2008 wage equity study conducted by the Iowa Workforce Development indicated women in Iowa earn 62 percent of the monthly income of men in the same industry, and women managers in Iowa earn only half of the income of their male counterparts on average.

Heineman said, though, she sees great interest in improving the situation for women at the UI, citing the high enrollment for classes addressing gender issues and efforts of campus organizations, including the Women’s Resource and Action Center.

One service program provided by the center is the Iowa Women Initiating Social Change. Founded in 1998, the program serves women in the community by providing training on social justice advocacy strategies and skills, as well as a supportive environment where women can come together and work on advocacy projects.

“One thing that I think will need to change for true sex equity to happen is that all women will need to feel comfortable standing up for themselves and advocating for themselves, even when they feel like doing so makes them go against society’s expectations of what an ideal woman is,” program coordinator Karacay said.

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