International Women’s Day began in the early 1900s as a labor holiday honoring working women’s movements in the United States and throughout Europe, per National Geographic. Originally implemented by the Socialist Party of America, it became an important day of pacifist protest during World War I, and in 1917, International Women’s Day rallies in Russia contributed to the start of the Russian Revolution, as stated by Penn Today. In the 1970s, the United Nations formally recognized March 8 as International Women’s Day, and it has since been used as a day to “celebrate how far women have come in society, in politics and in economics,” per the BBC.

At Brandeis, this year’s day was observed through the International Women’s Day Brunch, a gathering of student organizations sponsored by the Jewish Feminist Association of Brandeis. At the event, attendees could eat a free bagel brunch and “appreciate and empower the women in [their] life” by participating in a variety of activities, according to the event description. Organizer Yael Perlman ’23, who is part of JFAB, had celebrated International Women’s Day every year at her all-girls high school. She told the Justice that this year she was inspired by how Kindness Day brought people together, and decided to hold a campus-wide gathering for Women’s Day because “a lot of times, campus is so isolated. … If you’re in a certain club, you don’t necessarily know people from other parts of campus.” Her goals for the day were to gather, unify and empower — which she feels she achieved.

JFAB served bagels, lox, pastries and coffee, and many other clubs tabled with information and other handouts. The Justice spoke with each organization, hearing their unique perspectives on International Women’s Day and their club’s feminist missions.



Sharsheret at Brandeis

 Sharsheret at Brandeis Co-Presidents Debbie Spivak ’21 and Cassandra Nathan ’21 told the Justice that supporting International Women’s Day fits into their club’s mission of linking people together — Sharsheret is the Hebrew word for “link.” Sharsheret is a national organization supporting Jewish women and their families facing breast and ovarian cancer. They have college chapters around the country. At Brandeis, Nathan and Spivak feel Sharsheret’s role is to spread information about those cancers that younger people might not have easy access to after graduation. At the Sharsheret booth, brunch attendees could pick up goodies such as branded mints and pens as well as information about breast and ovarian cancer.

PERIODBrandeis

Brandeis PERIOD leaders Kyla Speizer ’23 and Cassady Adams ’22 said, “We are trying to break down the menstrual stigma and make sure that everyone who needs access to menstrual products has access to menstrual products.” Throughout the school year, PERIOD holds open mic nights, menstrual products drives and education events. They also work with Girl Scouts, teaching them about period poverty and getting them involved in menstrual activism. PERIOD acknowledges that “not all women menstruate and not all menstruators are women,” but feel that events like the brunch are still important for connecting with other feminist clubs on campus.

Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance

The Femenist Majority Leadership Alliance leaders Olivia Pavao ’20 and Zoe Applbaum ’20 told the Justice they are proud of being the biggest feminist organization at Brandeis. On campus, they “provide a space for people to talk about feminist issues, as well as do some grassroots activism,” Pavao and Applbaum said. At brunch, they handed out period packs with a pad, a tampon and a piece of chocolate. Packs were free, but they suggested a donation of $2, which would go to the Boston-area Rape Crisis Center. The club also holds Sexual Violence Awareness Month in April. FMLA tries to cross-collaborate with other feminist groups on campus as much as possible, they said. Asked how International Women’s Day is important in 2020, they pointed out the lack of a female president and that “women are at a significant disadvantage in comparison to men across the world.” It is always important to celebrate women’s activism globally, Pavao and Applbaum added.

Brandeis Encourages Women in Science and Engineering

BeWISE encourages women in STEM. Club representatives told the Justice about a recent alumni panel they held, in which they brought in female alumni from a variety of STEM professions. They also partner with a graduate organization, volunteer at a local middle school and hold fundraisers for a women in STEM scholarship at Brandeis. They get around 50-60 people at events, they added, showing that they are making an impact. They feel their mission “ties in nicely” with International Women’s Day. “Promoting it on campus … is amazing. It really just aligns with Brandeis and its mission … and it’s a good support system for other women on campus, to know there are other organizations they can look to,” they highlighted.

GirlUp Brandeis

GirlUp “strive[s] to promote the health, safety, education, reproductive rights and general well-being of adolescent girls around the world, especially in developing countries,” said President Pallavi Goel ’21. At Brandeis, they work to spread awareness and hold fundraisers, and are hoping to have an empowerment festival in early April. At their booth, they distributed heart cards, allowed guests to write empowering Post-it notes and held face painting “just for fun.” GirlUp is an international organization affiliated with the United Nations, and Goel said that International Women’s Day is “very fitting for GirlUp.” GirlUp is about female empowerment, she said, and she was happy to be there.

Brandeis Athletics

Women representing Brandeis Athletics also tabled at the event. Olivia Feeley ’23, who is on the soccer team, said she and some teammates took the opportunity to “share our perspective on the day and on being competitive female athletes.” Feeley said she feels there are “many intersections” surrounding being a woman in competitive sports, and that it presents unique challenges to overcome but “many beautiful things come from it too.” To Feeley, this day is “a celebration of all the things it means to be a woman — the things that are challenging, as well as the things that are really rewarding.” Asked to elaborate on the unique challenges facing women in sports, basketball player Emma Reavis ’23 jumped in: “One of the things … that really affects women in sports, especially in today’s day and age, is people who say they would rather watch a boy’s soccer game or a boys’ basketball game than a girls’ because we’re ‘not as athletic.’ … I think they are not really understanding that there are other things that we’re capable of. We’re skilled, we are able to do things that could be just as fun to watch or just as interesting but we’re not given the opportunity to have that sort of support.” Reavis added that people tend not to understand the challenges women athletes face, stereotyping their coaches and practices as less intensive than the men’s teams. 

Sabrina Salov ’22, another soccer player, added that a unique challenge faced by women in sports is “the disparity in respect compared to men.” She has pushed through by learning to find that respect within herself, and handles obstacles by relying on herself and the trust she’s built. 

Social Justice and Diversity Committee 

The Student Union’s Social Justice and Diversity Committee’s booth showcased biographies of impactful women from around the world. SOJO chairs said they chose the women to showcase by finding one inspiring figure from each continent, and tried to make sure they represented people of different backgrounds and cultures. Asked to speak to the ‘international’ component of the day, they said it meant “recognizing women from all over the world. That’s why we have women from different cultures, religions. … Clearly, they are not all American.” The committee’s mission is to “make sure we are really bringing out the social justice part at Brandeis, and promoting justice and equality. … [and] making sure that minorities on the campus are well-represented,” they told the Justice. 

Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center

Alison Hagani ’22 and Lauren Formanski ’22 staffed the Prevention Advocacy & Resource Center’s table, running a game where one could match a woman activist’s description to her name. Each woman has “participated in her own way, disrupting the cycle of violence,” they explained, saying they picked women by focusing on diversity and adding different perspectives and fields. To them, International Women’s Day is about “taking power back to raise awareness and empower women further.” It’s also about supporting one another, they added, noting that bystander intervention is also about standing up for each other.