Why you should care
Because we’re more than half the world’s population.
Pooja Bhatia is an OZY editor and writer. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Economist, and was once the mango-eating champion of Port-au-Prince.
International Women’s Day isn’t much of a thing in the United States. For this, some might blame the patriarchy, a society that doesn’t give women their due. But instead, maybe we should credit the fact that American women are more “liberated” than women in many other places.
There are plenty of caveats to that last statement, of course: We’ve not yet elected a female head of state; we still earn 78 cents for a dude’s dollar; and, of course, we’re the only developed country without paid maternity leave. Hell, we got the right to vote less than a century ago.
And yet. I never realized International Women’s Day was anything other than notional until I lived abroad, in a truly patriarchal country: Haiti. Every March 8, I’d receive texts from male sources and acquaintances, wishing me a happy day. It amused and perplexed me by turns.
The women in Port-au-Prince seemed ever at work. They were out on the streets and alleyways, carrying giant loads on their heads, stirring kettles over charcoal fires, washing clothes in streams, selling cigarettes at their kiosks, haggling at market. Even on March 8, the women worked. Some of them also received cards or candies or bottles of perfume. But mostly, they worked. Men, on the other hand, were conspicuous for their lack of work. That’s not to say that men did not work or engage in an infuriating and demoralizing daily search for work — but it’d be rare to see a woman shooting the shit on a street corner or playing dominoes in the park.
That a country so in thrall to machismo made such a fuss over International Women’s Day undermined the event, I thought. That just one day out of 365 was nominally devoted to them, these ever-working beings that constitute more than half the population, took on a perverse aspect, like protesting too much. Which is why it feels a little weird to be marking International Women’s Day at all, let alone with a selection of some of our most intriguing female Rising Stars.
And yet, rereading this collection of pieces on such kickass women, I reconsidered. These are truly some of the most impressive people in the world. Claudia López, illustrated above, is a Colombian who almost singlehandedly exposed a giant conspiracy in her country, leading to the imprisonment of some 42 congressmen. Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini has turned her island into a refuge for some of the world’s most desperate souls. Beverly Johnson wasn’t just the Jackie Robinson of the catwalk; she also has made some brave headlines against a sexual predator. Haitian-American cellist Leyla McCalla has been setting the words of James Baldwin — and others — to her beautiful instrument. I hope you have a chance to dive in and meet all these women and more.