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The Citizen

HKS reflects on International Women’s Day

We asked a number of students across HKS what meaning, if any, March 8 had for them. The responses we got were varied and interesting. Read on:

International Womens DayA Day to Celebrate Women the World Over

Being asked to write about the meaning that International Women’s Day held for me, I realized I actually didn’t even really know what date it was celebrated on. I know it now: March 8. I guess this already says something about the deep meaning of this special day to me. Although I am a woman and proud to be one, I never felt the need to celebrate this until coming here.

Coming to HKS I realized that being a woman and enjoying same rights and same recognition, as men can be difficult. Not because I have had a sore experience at HKS, but because I realized that I grew up in an environment where many generations of women had fought for my right to be treated as an equal. Thus, for me it is and always was a given, and not something I am striving for. But engaging with friends and colleagues here I came to recognize that for women from several other countries, cultures, traditions and religions; this might not be the reality yet.

Therefore, I admit it is important to have such a day and celebrate women all over the world, to celebrate their achievements and to motivate and encourage them to keep fighting where it is still needed.

Isabel Kleinau, MPA ’13

A new found appreciation

March 8 is the anniversary of the day I married the love of my life.   My nine year old daughter is simply incredible, and I am at a loss for words to express the profound joy my girls bring, as they are my source of strength and enable any success I’ve had in life.  I am away from them during my studies, as I have been many times in the past during my Naval service, but I find new love in the pain of each separation.  Normally, it is appreciating the small things like hearing “I love you daddy” or the magic I feel when my wife takes my hand.  This year, my love for them awakened a desire to empower my wife and ensure my daughter has every opportunity.  This year, my newfound appreciation of Women’s day owes to the date inscribed within my wedding ring.

Paul F. Campagna
National Security Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School

A point of remembrance in a long journey

March 8 represents the day-to-day of a woman, her struggles and hopes as a mother, wife, professional, sister and daughter of the world. It is a journey still highly divided in terms of access to opportunities. Some regions have achieved major gains while others remain at the bottom of expectations. March 8 is a reality-check day to see where we stand and where we want to go. It is a date to remind us that we can bridge the disruption between the status quo and our aspirations.

Yael Marciano, MC-MPA & Mason Fellow ’13

Women hold special place- equality misses the point

The fight for the rights of women misses the point.  Men should never be equal to women.  Mankind would simply not exist without women, but that is not my point.
As a distractible and happily self-absorbed bloke, my most profound experiences of womanhood have been through my mother, my wife and my young daughter.  It is not the scolding as a child that I remember. Through women, I have experienced what it means to have a heart of generosity and love.  I have seen how beautifully transformative courage and vulnerability can be. I have also learned the value of tenderness, and the strength that is required for genuine commitment.  Beyond that, I have been shown what it means to embrace brokenness with deep compassion.

My two-year-old snuggles up beside me. Women are such precious gifts. I am perplexed.  No, not the pedestal, but a special place at the heart of our humanity; that is where women should be.

Chris Lien, MC-MPA & Mason Fellow ’13

A thousand shoulders

I grew up not really believing in the need for there being a day dedicated to Women.  Surely, this was tokenism of the worst kind?  Sing paeans to woman’s courage on one day in a year, and forget her or discriminate against her for the other 364?

But, as time passed and I worked in government service in my country, my views changed.  I travelled, met people and met many women.  Hard working, quiet, simple, trusting, sharp, quick witted, courageous, bright smiles, colorful sarees, toothy grins, earthy humor, diligent, loving, empathetic, pragmatic, kind … did I mention hard working?

These were the women I met in rural areas, eking out simple livelihoods, in dustbowls of isolation and difficult terrain.  Battling hierarchies and the elements to raise children and send them to school.  Even the daughters.  Especially the daughters.

These were women in small towns and metropolises, travelling long wearying distances in local trains.  Working in an office or in another work arena, returning home.  Preparing the evening meal.  Helping with the kid’s homework.  Next day – repeat.

These were women who silently, cheerfully held together families as home makers.  I do not work they would say, when I asked them what they did.  I beg to differ.  I wanted to tell them -You work.  You work as hard if not harder than your counterparts who venture out of the home and work in an office.    But yours is an unpaid labor – so society discounts it.  Yet this labor is priceless –born of love and responsibility.

These were bright women I met in the civil services and in the private sector.  Ambitious, keen, eager to learn.  Competitive.  Yet, I understood the competitiveness.  Allowed for it – in all its yearning and sharp grace.

And these were women who were also army colonels, office assistants, Olympic medalists, cricketers, homemakers, cab-drivers, social workers, activists, teachers, surgeons, government officers, bankers, entrepreneurs, farmers, dancers, actors, artists, travelers, writers, journalists, prime ministers, presidents, grocers, designers, police officers, lawyers…. A kaleidoscope of hope, ambition, grit and aspiration. Everyday women.

On March 8, the young woman with no name –a let us call her ‘Nirbhaya’ – fearless – who was viciously gang raped in New Delhi in December  and who passed away after fighting for her life for almost two weeks– was honored posthumously by the United States Department of State with the International Woman of Courage Award.

Nirbhaya was not alone.  She was supported by her mother and father  – who sold their small plot of land in the village and moved to a larger city, New Delhi – so that she could pursue her dream of becoming a health professional.

So, I do not think celebrating March 8 is tokenism.  Not anymore.

On Women’s Day, I salute the courage of ordinary women.  Their aspirations.  And the thousands of shoulders that support and lift up their dreams- both men and women.

The day is recognition of the fight that all women and all right thinking men wage.  To live with honor and with respect.  To strive in a field of equal opportunity.  To be free to dream.

Because it is not one woman’s journey alone.

It is a journey of our entire humanity.

Jaya Bhagat, MC-MPA & Mason Fellow ’13