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Take Action this International Women's Day

Take Action this International Women's Day

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This piece originally ran as a Strategies for Sisterhood Success item in Women of Reform Judaism's Weekly Digest newsletter.

On Thursday, March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day. The history of this celebration is surprisingly radical: the first occurrence was on February 28, 1909, in New York. Established by a Jewish labor and women’s rights activist, the day was created to recognize women’s contributions and promote women’s suffrage within the Socialist Party of America. This has since spread throughout the world with the guidance of the United Nations.

The UN has selected different themes each year, and this year, it has chosen “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives.” With movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, it is the time for women to mobilize using the fearless power of their voices. Our own community coined the term #GamAni to expose instances of sexual harassment and violence within Jewish institutions. Our own women spoke out, starting with our open letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in relation to the rights of sexual assault survivors in school. This continued with #UsToo, a compilation of selected comments that women added to the over 650 signatures collected.

While likely not the intention of the organizers, there is a clear connection between the day’s origins and this year’s iteration. As the #MeToo movement has reminded us, sexual harassment remains a huge obstacle for working women. Women will never be able to fully participate in the workforce until they can go to work without fear of sexual harassment and retribution for seeking redress. With full participation in the workforce comes economic independence, a prerequisite to equal membership in society. By placing the #MeToo movement into the context of women’s centuries-long struggle for economic and social equality, we can celebrate International Women’s Day not as a one-off event, but rather as a historically significant day for re-invigoration.

As you look for ways to celebrate International Women’s Day this year, here are a few ideas for action:

  • Urge your representatives to co-sponsor and support the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). IVAWA was recently reintroduced in Congress and is a key means of improving women’s status worldwide, providing the foundational tools to end violence against women internationally. Do this through the RAC’s action alert.
  • Sign up to be a pilot congregation for the Reform Pay Equity Initiative. Want to make a dent in the wage gap? Why not start within your own Jewish community? Make sure ethical hiring practices are going on for all staff within your synagogue.
  • Ensure your workplace has solid anti-harassment policies. If you are in a leadership position within your workplace, review your anti-harassment policies and enforcement mechanisms. For guidance on best practices, see NWLC’s resource page for employers
  • Sign up for the National Women’s Law Center’s Legal Network for Gender Equity (if you are an attorney) or donate to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. The Network and Fund are recent NWLC initiatives intended to connect people facing sexual harassment to resources and professionals who can help them fight back.
  • Join a local March For Our Lives in efforts to reduce gun violence. When it comes to gun violence against women, the United States is the most dangerous country in the developed world. Within domestic violence situations in the U.S., women are 16 times more likely to be shot and killed than are women in other developed nations. We must take a stand now. 

Susannah R. Cohen is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C. She recently graduated from Columbia University, and grew up in New Rochelle, New York as a member of Westchester Jewish Center in Mamaroneck, NY. She is thrilled to be combining her deep Jewish values with her passion for policy by working on her portfolio topics, which include economic justice and women's issues, as well as working with Women of Reform Judaism.

Susannah R. Cohen