Women gather on campus for annual women’s day fest

Amirali Raissnia

Interactive musical performances, panel discussions and social changes were part of the third annual celebration of International Women’s Day held Saturday at the St. Paul Student Center.
Nearly 500 women attended the daylong “Women of the World: Learning and Leading” event. The annual event is the largest of its kind in the Midwest.
“It speaks to the solidarity of women. It speaks to the strength of women. And it speaks to the hopes and dreams of women for a world of peace, in which each individual has equal dignity, rights and opportunities,” said Donna Sherlock, the Minnesota Women’s Foundation executive director. She added the event is important for young women, who are the future of the women’s rights movement.
“I want them to feel that they are part of something larger than themselves in promoting equal rights and opportunities for women and girls, and that they know what they can do,” she said.
The free event featured 25 workshops and several musical and dramatic presentations. Topics of the workshops ranged from serious social issues such as the effects of divorce on women to a strictly casual and festive workshop titled “Improvisation for Fun.” In the latter session, nearly 20 participants actively took part in learning improvisational skills.
St. Paul resident Emily Radland attended the event in order to discover opportunities for employment and involvement in the women’s community.
“I’m looking for jobs for the summer, so it’s interesting to walk around to the different booths and see the different opportunities,” she said. “It gives me more of a sense of community, which I don’t normally have. But here it’s almost overwhelming. Everyone is so nice.”
International Women’s Day is the result of labor struggles in the early 20th century. In 1908, textile workers in New York City went on strike to protest unsafe working conditions and attempt to form a union. Working conditions did not improve, and two years later a fire at a textile plant killed hundreds of women who had engaged in the strike.
The Twin Cities first experienced International Women’s Day in 1996. It was inspired by the Fourth Annual World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. More than 20,000 women from across the globe attended the Beijing conference, including 250 women from Minnesota. The three-week-long conference, sponsored by the United Nations, consisted mostly of women’s advocacy groups and thousands of non-governmental organizations.
“Minnesota had a larger state delegation than any other state in the country,” said law school graduate Cheryl Thomas. “There was so much energy after that conference on these issues that, when we got back, we picked International Women’s Day to do something like this.”