We all know women should be venerated every day but like Mothers’ Day, a particularly special day each year has been set aside in deference to women.
The 8th March is the date chosen to commemorate International Women’s Day (IWD).
The first IWD dates back over 110 years to 1909 in New York and became the pivotal point in the women’s rights movement. A year later German revolutionary activist and advocate Clara Zetkin, proposed at the International Socialist Woman’s Conference that 8th March be the day to annually honour the memory of working women and the day has been celebrated, in one form or another, ever since.
For instance, it became a national holiday in 1917 in Soviet Russia after women gained the right to vote in political elections and IWD has slowly gained momentum throughout the world. The feminist movement adopted IWD in the late 1960s and the United Nations began celebrating the day in 1975.
Today IWD commemorations range from being a public holiday in some countries to being largely ignored elsewhere. In some places, it is a day of protest; in others, it is a day that celebrates womanhood.
In Australia, empowering women is at the centre of our IWD. Lots of fund-raising events are held nationwide on or around the date, with many of them showcasing successful and revered women, who we can admire and learn so much from their achievements.
I believe one of the important aspects of IWD should be to always recognise and thank the men in our lives as well, especially those who give us the much-needed ‘leg up’ we need in order to advance in our endeavours.
Having worked for the last 45 years in the very male-dominated world of media, if it wasn’t for all the wonderful men in high places, who had faith in me and believed in my abilities, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I’ve been given nor would my career have gone the distance.
The majority of my mentors are men and I think the main reason is because there were very little or no women in their equivalent positions of authority or influence at the time.
I think we can easily apply that same scenario to all walks of life, so I get very annoyed when this important IWD is shanghaied by women, who simply want to use it to speak ill of the opposite sex.
I hasten to add that not all women are supportive of other women either and I’ve witnessed and experienced that first hand during my extensive career. In many cases there were so few jobs on offer for women that it became a very competitive and divisive environment, pitting one woman against another, instead of us developing a sisterhood by networking and all helping each other. Something men have been doing successfully for millennia with their Boys’ Club.
Rather than giving these negative people any oxygen, I’d rather focus on the extraordinary women, who make me proud to share the XX chromosomes that make us females.
Women I admire most.
When I think about all the amazing women I respect and especially those who have made the biggest positive impact on my life, the top spot on my list will always go to my Mum.
Annemarie Elelman was a multi-talented, extremely intelligent trail blazer, who was definitely born long before her time.
Born in Germany and living under Hitler’s reign, Mum experienced the atrocities of WWII as a teenager. She was buried alive in the cellar of her apartment building and rendered unconscious for three months after American bombs fell on her hometown.
Mum arrived in Australia, with my Polish Dad (a Holocaust survivor) and my eldest brother Leon, as refugees from war worn Europe in 1950.
Leon was only two and a half and he contracted chicken pox when they were in a camp in Italy waiting to board a converted tanker to come to Australia. They had to spend what little money they had to survive so when they arrived on Aussie soil they only had 5 pounds (about $10) in their pocket.
I will never know how Mum found the strength to deal with losing her first child Herbert after he died unexpectedly at just six-months old and then to carry her third son to full-term, only to deliver him stillborn. Mum then almost died herself while having me.
There were many crosses, including poor health, that Mum had to bear throughout her life, all weighing heavy on her heart but she never gave up and devoted her life to raising my other two surviving brothers and me, while managing to work fulltime.
No matter what life threw at her, Mum still always managed to find the glass half-full not half-empty and she made an enormous contribution to her local community in so many ways.
Mum taught me that gender should not be any barrier to achieving my goals, dreams and aspirations.
It has been almost twenty five years since she passed away and a day rarely goes by when I don’t think of her and am eternally grateful to have had her as my Mum.
As her health continued to fail, she would always say, ‘If I’m in your heart I’ll always be with you’ and that’s where she’s always been.
Women in Politics
Outside of my family, there are so many incredible women deserving recognition for what they’ve achieved in their lifetime.
Three standout women, who against all odds went on to become political leaders of their country of birth, all deserve a shout out;
Aung San Suu Kyi
The first is Myanmar’s (formerly known as Burma) State Counsellor (akin to being the Prime Minister) Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent a total of fifteen years under house arrest and could have been free if she agreed to leave the country and never come back.
Her father was assassinated and her mother was a prominent political figure and Ambassador to India and Nepal.
She’s currently in the second term in office as the leader of Myanmar, where this Nobel Peace Prize laureate used her $US1.3 million dollar prize money to establish a health and education trust for the Burmese people.
The four basic ingredients for success are: you must have the will to want something; you must have the right kind of attitude; you must have perseverance, and then you must have wisdom. Then you combine these four and then you get to where you want to get to. – Aung Sn Suu Kyi
In January this year incumbent Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was re-elected in an historic landslide. She presides over Taiwan, an island with a population of around 23 million.
President Tsai revealed in an exclusive interview on CNN that Taiwan’s democracy remains under direct threat from the Chinese government, and faces mounting aggression, growing every day, from Beijing under its President Xi Jinping.
The 63 year old President is single with no children and clearly has a great sense of humour. When asked why she never married, she candidly responded, ‘I won’t buy the whole pig just for a sausage.’
Another woman, who has my admiration, is Benazir Bhutto.
She followed in her father’s footsteps to lead Pakistan. In Benazir’s case, she became their Prime Minister twice, firstly from 1988-1990 and again from 1993 – 1996.
Benazir Bhutto became the world’s youngest Prime Minister, the youngest female Prime Minister ever elected and the first female Prime Minister in a Muslim majority country.
Coming from a long line of politicians, she grew up in an aristocratic wealthy family and was educated at Harvard and Oxford. She could have lived the high life in the US or the UK but instead she returned to Pakistan and took on the country’s challenges.
Her father and one of her brothers were executed, her other brother murdered and Benazir was put in prison and spent long periods in solitary confinement.
She also spent time in exile but instead of acting as a deterrent, it spurred her on to return to Pakistan to lead her country.
It was revealed in an interview that Prime Minister Bhutto read self-help books. She’s quoted as saying, ‘For all the lows in my life, those self-help books helped me survive, I can tell you.’
Sadly, she met the same fate as her father and brother, when in 2007 at just 54 years of age; she was assassinated by a 15 year old suicide bomber, allegedly at the behest of the Pakistani Taliban, who shot at her then blew himself up.
Being nice should never be perceived as being weak. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of courtesy, manners, grace, a woman’s ability to make everyone…feel at home, and it should never be construed as weakness. – Benazir Bhutto
Closer to home, there is no better example of an exceptional business woman, who with great charm and grace and a massive amount of hard work, has conquered the male-dominated industry of Horse Racing than Gai Waterhouse.
Gai (short for Gabriel) is the only child of famous race horse-trainer and former jockey Tommy J Smith MBE, or TJ as he was affectionately referred.
After graduating from university, Gai made a name for herself in modelling and acting then spent fifteen years as an apprentice under her father’s tutelage before being granted an Australian Jockey Club (AJC) licence in 1992. She went on to train her first Group One winner later that same year.
Gai Waterhouse has since clocked up over 7,000 winners to her credit; she’s trained over 135 Group One horses first past the post, including six Golden Slippers (equalling her Dad’s record).
Described as Australia’s First Lady of the Turf, Gai’s greatest racing accomplishment came in 2013, when she became the first Australian women to train at Melbourne Cup winner – Fiorente.
She was deeply honoured to be inducted into Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2007, joining her Dad, who had been award the same kudos eleven years earlier.
The last women I want to pay homage to, is the Oscar winning US actor, dancer and singer Ginger Rogers (born Virginia Katherine McMath).
Ginger Rogers’ career spanned 57 years and is best known as the female half of the most successful dancing duo in movie history. She danced alongside the great Fred Astaire in nine hit movie musicals in the 1930s and 40s.
The caption on Bob Thaves’ Frank and Ernest 1982 cartoon sums up best why I admire her so much;
‘Sure he [Astaire] was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did…backwards and in high heels’.
And I’d be safe in adding without doubt that Fred Astaire was paid disproportionately more than Ginger in the process.
Who are the women in your life worth celebrating and cherishing?
Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them. – Anon
Susie Elelman AM
Author, TV & Radio Broadcaster