By Jennifer McClain
There were discussions of equality and income disparities. And there was also fun, celebration and dancing, specifically displaying the beauty of the Arabic culture. This was the 7th Annual International Women’s Day 2019 event hosted by the American Association for Arab Women (AAAW) on March 16 at the Malden Senior Community Center. The event was attended by about 60 people, a diverse crowd representing many different cultures. A number of Malden’s political leaders were in attendance.
AAAW President Souad Akib welcomed attendees first by calling for a moment of silence and then reading from the Koran to honor those lost in the recent tragedy in New Zealand. She then launched into a call to action in honor of International Women’s Day, reciting a list of what should be done and how you can do it.
“We need to make sure women are treated with respect in the workplace,” Akib said. She went on to describe how it could be accomplished: “If you are a hiring manager, interview as many women as you do men” and “If you have a daughter make sure she knows she can be whatever she wants, not just a princess but a scientist, too!”
“Balance for better” was the theme of this year’s event. “We need each other, that’s what “balance for better” means,” said Akib. If women can be supported and achieve success, not only will they benefit but so will their families and society as a whole.
That point was emphasized by the film “Equal Means Equal,” directed by Kamala Lopez, segments of which were screened at the event. The film presents the case that women need to be seen as equal under the federal law with a constitutional amendment—nothing less. Any other law, outside of the U.S. Constitution, is vulnerable to every new presidential administration. A constitutional amendment would be a formidable, unwavering change that could give equality to women, the film argues.
Due to time constraints, only select portions of “Equal Means Equal” were shown, including segments on the wage gap, international women’s rights, and rape/sexual assault; discussions were held between segments.
The longest discussion focused on the wage gap and sexual harassment. The discussions took on an international perspective as many woman representing several countries spoke up.
A teacher from Morocco pointed to her country’s testing system that allowed the salary to be based on ability to perform well as a teacher; this system was also publicized for everyone to make sure they were getting the pay they were supposed to.
Next a woman from China pointed to the political system of communism in China that made sure everyone was seen as equal workers in the system, whether women or men. “There is a saying in China,” she said. “A woman holds up half of the sky.”
A woman whose mother came from Sweden, talked about how her mother was shocked by the pay difference in the United States and the perception in this country that women were seen as a wife first and therefore less equal in the eyes of the law. For example, until 1974, American women still needed a male cosigner for a credit application.
Discrimination was also a key topic in the talk given by Malden resident Marilyn Andrews, a guest speaker at the event. Andrews is an entrepreneur who also worked in the field of special education. She describes how she was called “dear” by her manager until she pointed out “she didn’t see any antlers.” It was a small victory for her because she can still remember today how every time he said it it made her feel “less than” equal. Her take home messages were “Learn to speak up early” and “Learn to say no.”
The film also examined a piece of legislation on international women’s rights ratified by 189 states in the United Nations, all except six countries including the United States. This is the “Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination.” Ugoji Eze, international human rights lawyer for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, is interviewed in the film, and specifically asked about America’s reluctance to ratify this legislation. She said she could not explain why this country is not signed on but she emphatically points out that “many country’s leaders told me if America would agree to this they would too.” The other five states that have not ratified the legislation are Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga.
As disheartening as these realizations were, the day was ended on a high note. The final presentations were a dancer who performed dances from Morocco and Egypt and a troupe of dancers who performed dances from Palestine.
Buoyed by the energy of those performances, the call to action from Ms. Akib seemed less daunting if not impossible to tackle.