International Women’s Day

March 9th, 2015 by | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

While many women and I have shared our voice about women issues at home in the United States, I believe that our voice hasn’t been as well heard as it should be. I should say that I didn’t realize that we have not been so vocal about women issues until coming to Cameroon, especially seeing the march on International Women’s Day which occurs on March 8th. On International Women’s Day in the United States, the only thing I did to recognize the day was to post “Happy International Women’s Day” on social media. I actually also attended a panel last year on International Women’s Day where two out of three people were men and they discussed women issues in developing countries. I don’t recall the United States doing marches or something festive in the city to recognize the day. However, Cameroon is a whole different world on International Women’s Day. When I asked my work partners for permission to go on vacation around this time, they told me that I can’t be away for International Women’s Day and that I needed to be at the post to see the big march on the main shopping street of Bamenda. After having been presented at my post on International Women’s Day, I now understand why my work partners were so adamant about not wanting me to miss the day at my post, and I appreciate them for it.

I went to the march in the town center as a spectator. Some of the very first people to walk down Commercial Avenue, the main street of the city, were women with disability including Ruth, my counterpart, and Hilda, a work partner. They all wore the same pagne, the special pagne made specifically for International Women’s Day. Then as the march went on, I saw more women wearing the same pagne. It’s important to note that this pagne is found in shops everywhere in Cameroon. Women not only have to pay for the pagne, but also for a tailor to have an outfit made. As I watched women march while wearing the same pagne, I thought, “I can’t imagine the tailors. They had to have been so busy in the past few weeks.” However, I thought seeing women wearing the same fabric but in different outfit styles was truly empowering. The pagne really unified the women together to share their voice about challenges that women face on daily basis. Then I saw many signs expressing many issues that women face such as sexual assaults, physical abuse, and acquiring education.  Some signs were so powerful.  I especially loved one sign that said, “We work harder…we still have a long way to go.”  I was also especially delighted to see signs advocating against rape and physical abuse as they’re not uncommon in Cameroon.  Men were also spotted in the march to advocate for women’s rights too.

Watching the march was a very powerful and moving experience.  After an hour, I said, “Wow! This march just goes on forever!”  There was no sign of it ending soon.  I finally left after about two and a half hours when the march was still not yet over.  I was exhausted as I had just come back from a quick vacation.  I was truly in awe by the number of women who realize the importance of sharing their voice with the public and that we still have work to do in improving women’s rights.  During the march, I kept questioning about United States doing anything big on International Women’s Day.  I don’t recall any marches happening.   While many women do have many rights in my home country, they still face many battles too.  For example, one in five women in college experience attempted or actual sexual assaults.  Many women struggle to get health insurance coverage for contraceptions.  Average payment for women is still lower than the average payment for men.

I want to note that the march is done in many cities throughout Cameroon.  It’s a day that is taken so seriously in Cameroon but not so seriously in the United States.

Women with disabilities took part in the march.

Women with disabilities took part in the march.

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My counterpart, Ruth, was part of the march.

Political advocacy was part of the march.

Political advocacy was part of the march.

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Many women wore the same pagne.  There is a pagne made specially for International Women's Day.

Many women wore the same pagne. There is a pagne made specially for International Women’s Day.

A woman drove an ambulance

A woman drove an ambulance

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Little girls took part in the march and also wore the same International Women's Day pagne as other women.

Little girls took part in the march and also wore the same International Women’s Day pagne as other women.

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