Tuesday, March 11, 2008

International Women's Day

Armenia is one of the countries worldwide that embraces International Women's Day on March 8th. Here, the holiday is most closely associated with how we in America celebrate Mother's Day. Children make cards, buy small gifts and flowers for the women in their lives-most importantly their mothers. I spent last week preparing the children for the holiday by providing every class with paper and colored pencils and asking students to decorate a mother's day thank you card. This worked well and every grade from 2nd to 9th participated. The act of making thank you cards is generally isolated to young children in Armenia, and it was a good exercise for 14 and 15 year olds to take some time to think of ways to say thank you to their mothers.

On Friday afternoon I decided I wanted to travel on the holiday. A group of girls were gathering south of my village and I wanted to celebrate the Armenian holiday with Americans. The decision was justified by the following conversation I had with my host mother on Friday afternoon:

Host mother: "Tomorrow is women's day-we're having a party."
Me: "You mean a BBQ?"
Host mother: "Yes, it will be big."
Me: "And who will set the table?"
Host mother: "Donara [my host sister]"
Me: "And who will cook the food?"
Host mother: "Donara"
Me: "And who will gather and wash the dishes?"
Host mother: "You and I will."
Me: "So really what you're saying is that the women are going to throw a party for themselves and then do all the work while the men sit and eat and toast to our holiday and health? I'm going to my friends house."

And so I did. I went down south and the five of us did girly things like get our eyebrows done (a 500 dram= $1.25 expense), eat cake and ice cream at a tea house, lay out in the sunshine and watch English movies. It was my ideal of a women's holiday-spent with women doing things that made us feel good.

On Monday morning I got to school and opened Yahoo! to find that internationally, women were doing things on Saturday that had a little more impact than getting my eyebrows plucked. There were interesting stories of tributes, rallies and celebrations. I was most struck by an article about Wajiha Huwaidar, a Saudi woman, driving her car in a remote area to mark the day. Appearently she posted her video on YouTube. Interestingly, there are very few women drivers in the regions of Armenia. In fact, it's pretty unique to see women driving in the cities. I'm constantly thankful for the freedoms of both law and culture that allow me live openly in our society.