This year I will finally celebrate International Women's Day. I have always wanted to commemorate this day, but never have. I'm not sure what makes today different from the past. Perhaps it is the fact that my niece Felicity is growing up, and I want a better world for her as she becomes a young woman. Perhaps it is because I am fed up with the many politicians trying to erode women's rights in our country right now. Whatever the reason, this is the year.
I had always believed International Women's Day to be a modern invention, but discovered it had its beginnings in 1908. I was amazed - and proud - to find out that it all started with women marching through the streets of New York City to demand shorter work hours, better pay and the right to vote (http://www.internationalwomensday.com). That I didn't know this embarrasses me. After all, I spent quite a few weekends in the 1970's marching for women's rights. Having prided myself on my knowledge of the history of women in our country, obviously I still have a great deal more to learn. But first I need to get back into action after many years.
How appropriate it is that for my celebration I had already planned to march in San Francisco this afternoon. Once again, women will take to the streets to protest for their rights. And this time I'll join them. I love this event even more because of the name of the group organizing the march: WORD. What writer could resist that? Not this one. I want to be there just because of that!
Adding to this synchronicity, I have been reading an anthology of poetry titled Malala: Poems for Malala Yousafzai. Published by FutureCycle Press, it contains poems written in response to the horrendous shooting in October, 2012 which made Malala a household name as a defender of girl's and women's rights. The editors Joseph Hutchison and Andrea L. Watson have compiled an inspiring collection of poems sparked by Malala's courage in the face of brutality.
This beautiful book contains many poems illuminated by too many powerful lines to mention. However, here are a few that particularly struck me. Such as these from Ode by Judith Terzi: "She is a luminous lagoon./She is our hands, our pen". Or "Malala, there is music in your name/and something bitter between your teeth/that, swallowed, turns sweet" in Letter of Intent to Adopt by Barbara Rockman. And this from A Young Girl by Ed Baker: "no easy way to gain the freedom/to explore-/a young woman bravely goes"
Isn't that what makes Malala's story so poignant to us all? Few of us would have the extraordinary courage of that young school girl. We only can feel awe that she was brave enough to do what we fear we couldn't have.
All proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Malala Fund, an organization dedicated to fighting for girls' education around the world. As Joseph Hutchinson asks in his foreward, "Is it possible, too, that one poet, one pen, and one poem can change the world?" I believe such change can happen. The poems in this book are proof. I'm glad I bought it.
So today, as a poet and a teacher and a woman who hopes for the freedom to travel the world, I am marching for Malala. And for all the young women she represents. It is the least I can do. Happy International Women's Day!
“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen
can change the world.”
“Malala Day” speech to the United Nations
July 12, 2013