Saturday, March 8, 2014

International Women's Day 1973

On International Women's Day in 1973 I was living in South India and involved in language study program at a local university. Next door to our classroom, an elderly Indian lady taught geography. We hadn't spoken, but had seen each other in the courtyard on the way to classes.

In early March she approached me about speaking to her geography class on International Women's Day the following week. She knew I was from the USA and perhaps thought I might speak of how wonderful life was for women in the US. We spoke for a while, I mostly listening to her enthusiasm regarding International Women's Day. And actually, that was the first I'd heard of International Women's Day--it wasn't a day that was celebrated on any university campus where I'd studied or that I remembered from before India.... maybe I was just more into the books in those days.  Anyway, it was a minor epiphany. Combined with the many hardships and burdens I'd witnessed affecting Indian women of all regions and castes, attending her class and that day special day became unexpectedly important to me.

I'm at a loss to remember anything I might have said to the geography class that day in 1973. Maybe I talked about the language program or my interest in India. Or maybe I spoke of my university and the city I would return to. I'm not sure. My life's experience at that time was limited to study and a bit of travel.

But I do remember listening to that teacher--she resembled Eleanor Roosevelt ... in a sari. She positively glowed. She spoke of her own visit to the United States as a Fulbright Fellow and how she had traveled across our vast country to see the amber waves of grain, the purple mountains, the huddled masses of the cities, and surely more than one farm. She was as thrilled to share the memories of her travels as we were to hear them. One thing I especially remember had to do with America's resources: She said the cows she had seen were enormous and fat! and so healthy looking! She said the ears of corn were huge and delicious! All the crops were so plentiful! She said she had never seen such abundance.

Now remembering her story, I think of her geography students and how they benefited from this cross-cultural sharing on that day. Perhaps some of them continued to study for advanced degrees and visited the USA as Fulbright Fellows. Perhaps one of them recounted her travelogue to her students. Perhaps one of them studied in the US, encouraged by this adventuresome Indian women--professor. And I think of the power of one single person, a women, an elderly teacher, telling her story on International Women's Day 1973. It's a good thing.

See general information on history of International Women's Day at United Nations website:

See article in UMass Daily Collegian describing origin of International Women's Day in more "radical" events:

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