Illustration by Christine Hipp
Illustration by Christine Hipp

From the high cost of childcare to the threat of domestic violence, women in Santa Cruz County face a host of problems that decades of feminist activism have not yet eradicated.

International Women’s Day, which fell on March 8, is celebrated around the world with events that address the inequalities that inhibit women in various cultures. The month of March is also Women’s History Month.

On March 16 from 12–3 p.m., the Louden Nelson Community Center will host a gathering of prominent women’s rights activists in the Santa Cruz community. Speakers include reverend Deborah Johnson, poet Ekua Omosupe and members of Mission Hill Middle School’s “Girl Up” group.

In addition to guest speakers and a silent auction, the proceedings will include an international soup kitchen, featuring numerous soups from a host of different cultures, with unlimited soup and bread for $7.

Pat Arnold, co-president of the United Nations Association (UNA-USA) of Santa Cruz — a non-governmental group that exists to promote relations between U.N. goals and Santa Cruz local communities — said International Women’s Day has a rich heritage rooted in America’s history.

“It began about a hundred years ago,” Arnold said. “After the Triangle Fire, that galvanized the feelings against sweatshop conditions for women because so many young girls died in that fire where the room was locked.”

The UNA-USA, in the tradition of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, has been hosting events for International Women’s Day for about 10 years.

While the recipient of the proceeds from the soup kitchen and silent auction has not been finalized, Arnold said the money will probably be donated to women’s education in some way, including possibly helping an African student pay for her education.

“We’ve been supporting a student in Africa, a woman in high school, so that she would be able to get an education,” Arnold said.

Arnold also said this year’s events are especially poignant because the federal Violence Against Women Act was recently reauthorized.

Reverend Deborah Johnson, of the Inner-Light Ministries in Soquel, said the subordinate status of women has not existed universally for all of human history.

“It depends on when you start counting history,” Johnson said. “Women have been shamans, healers, mystics and holy people throughout all cultures for millennia. My first name is Deborah and Deborah in the bible was a prophet and a general. We tend to forget that women have not always been relegated to subjugation.”

Johnson said International Women’s Day should be thought of as not merely a temporary event, but as part of an ongoing broader movement.

“We need to uplift the feminine, because anything in our society that is associated with the feminine — like caregiving or even mother earth herself — it’s not getting its due and it’s being subjugated to second class,” Johnson said. “It’s important that we revolutionize our value system and give equal importance to what we call the feminine.”

Arnold said the event will appeal to college students.

“I think that female students, as well as male students at UCSC, would have quite a bit of knowledge about these topics and could participate in the discussion that we have after we hear our speakers,” Arnold said.

Other events in celebration of International Women’s Day are taking place in Santa Cruz this month.

The downtown Regal Cinemas hosted two showings of “Girl Rising,” a documentary about nine women struggling to obtain an education despite poverty and hardship.

The group Feminists Working on Real Democracy hosted a Rally and March to Resist Rape Culture on March 8, which involved a march from Quarry Plaza on the UCSC campus to the clock tower downtown.

Johnson encouraged UCSC students to attend the event on Saturday.

“I would really love to see some students and some younger participation in it,” Johnson said. “The subject matter that is prompting International Women’s Day is so important and relevant to every generation.”


UNA-USA plans to offer students membership at the International Women’s Day event at the Louden Nelson Community Center for $10.