Why do I commit myself to participating in International Women’s Day?
I came into this world having been nurtured in the womb of a great woman (Pouran Safi).

My two girls

My two girls

Some of my earliest memories of my life are the love and care of that great woman.
Women taught me how to read.
Women taught me how to love.
And I today, am surrounded by these two powerful girls.

I can’t even conceive of my humanity without the women who have shaped my life.
My being is wrapped up in theirs.

This is why I honor International Women’s Day, today, everyday, until all of us have the structural and institutional freedom in which we can achieve our full potential, with the grace of God.
I cannot be who I ought to be, until and unless they be who they ought to be.

Here are three short thoughts on International Women’s Day:

1)   WE have de-politicized International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is not about Hallmark.  It’s not about chocolate. (Thought I know many women who won’t turn those down.)  It’s about politics, institutions, economics, racism….

International Women's Day poster (1914)

International Women’s Day poster (1914) from Wikipedia

As is the case with Mother’s Day and many other holidays, today we are presented with a sanitized, deodorized, nationalized, commoditized version of what were initially radical holidays to emphasize social justice.

Initially, International Women’s Day was called International Working Women’s Day.   Yes, every woman is a working woman. Yes, there is no task harder perhaps than raising a child, for a father and a mother.     But let us remember that the initial impetus of this International Working Women’s Day was to address the institutional, systematic, political, and economic obstacles that women faced in society.   Yes, many socialists and communists worked to use this day to highlight the urgency of equal rights for women, including the right to vote in the early 1900s.    They marched against gender discrimination in employment, and for the right to hold public office.

 2)  We have a lot of work to do.

All you need to do is to go Google, and google “International Women’s Day.”    See what you get, a whole set of images of dainty images of women.    Not exactly the message of the International Women’s Day.

The work is not just in Developing Countries.  Right here in the United States we see an escalating assault on women’s rights.

3) Today’s focus is about poverty, sexual violence, and more.

The United Nations highlights a number of themes.  In 2013, the theme was a commitment to end violence against women. 

Iranian celebration of International Women's Day

Iranian celebration of International Women’s Day Hamid Dabashi FB page

The focus today is truly international, having moved from a European and Soviet origin to a truly global shared struggle.

Here is a list of previous themes over the last generation:

2013: A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women
2012: Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty
2011: Equal access to education, training and science and technology
- 2010: Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all
2009: Women and men united to end violence against women and girls
- 2008: Investing in Women and Girls
2007: Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls
2006: Women in decision-making
2005: Gender Equality Beyond
2005: Building a More Secure Future
2004: Women and HIV/AIDS
2003: Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals
2002: Afghan Women Today: Realities and Opportunities
2001: Women and Peace: Women Managing Conflicts
2000: Women Uniting for Peace
1999: World Free of Violence against Women
1998: Women and Human Rights
1997: Women at the Peace Table
1996: Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future

So here is, to all women, and to all men whose humanity is wrapped up in those women.  Here is to all of us.

Commitment to International Women’s Day is intertwined with struggles against sexism, racism, colonialism, homophobia, classism, able-ism, and Islamophobia.  It’s not about your individual preferences and friendships.  It is about the institutions, infrastructure, and systems that prevent some of us from achieving the fullness of our human potential.


  1. Does it go without saying that religion is an “institution, infrastructure, and system that prevents some of us from reaching our full potential”? Or are all religions objectively good ideologies criminally misused to further racism, classism, sexism etc., completely contrary to their revelators’ intentions?
    I just wonder, what Professor Safi would say to a person who believed, in regards to international women’s day and oppressive institutions, that Islam is a far bigger problem then islamophobia, Christianity a far bigger problem then persecution of Christians, and so on.
    More generally, it disappoints me that in the Western religious studies academy there seems to be such unwillingness to engage with the idea that religions (especially the larger ones) can be validly interpreted to be promoting ideas we would find unjust. It’s easy to say that we should fight sexism, racism etc that manifests itself under a religious label. Its easy to show that Islam, Judaism, etc. are not fundamentally sexist if we start with the premise that they are not sexist. But what do we do with all the arguments, based on scriptures/sayings/traditions/consensus and more, that have long justified these structures under a religious label? Are we just going to enforce our progressive orthodoxy on religion, because after all, Muhammad/Jesus/Buddha would never favor anything we think is unjust?
    We should at the very least be open to the idea that reasonable people can decide that all or some religions (however broadly or narrowly defined) are worth opposing as a whole, and think about how that opposition can justly manifest itself in society. Is there a way to think and say Islam is bad without being Islamophobic?

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