08 March, 2011
Many many years ago, just after I had started university, I befriended a female engineer/researcher from Russia. Well, sort of befriended, in the manner a scruffy dog tries to befriend a lunching businessman on a park bench. Anna headed the physics lab in our electrical engineering department.
She was actually a very intimidating person: reserved, but short-tempered, and didn't suffer fools. Why she suffered an ex-ballet dancer newbie engineering student obviously way up over her ears, was beyond me. While all my other fellow students lived in fear of having to ask Anna for any information (Anna didn't believe in the "There are no stupid questions" premise of today) and thus become the brunt of her scorn.
Then came one March day and another physics lab. Anna walked in with a bouquet of red roses, which was very puzzling. Then she took out two of the roses and handed one to Myrna and one to me (the only two women in our year). She explained that it was International Women's Day and back in Russia, it was a very important holiday. One where women went out on the streets and joyfully celebrated.
I don't know if literally women in Russia at that time went out into the streets or if Anna meant it figuratively. What she said though was it is a shame that people in Canada and the States didn't know how much that day of recognition meant to many women around the world. And, to be perfectly honest, I was one those Canadians she was referring to who didn't really care about the women's struggles living in her country behind the Iron Curtain.
This was because we knew so little about life in Russia. What the media covered was appropriated from sources either underground or from dissidents living outside of the country. Somewhat the same situation as that existed in Egypt for the last decades.
On this International Women's Day, I am celebrating the women of Egypt, as well as the people of Egypt.
In the video above, Wadah Khanfar, the head of Al Jazeera, shares his view on what is happening in Egypt. He argues Al Jazeera's approach to journalism emphasizes "re-thinking authority, giving a voice to the voiceless". Many of those voiceless, one has to assume, are the women of Egypt. Yet, perhaps some are speaking up:
Maybe each of us to should spend some time listening to women who are speaking out. You can start today by reading about 100 Top Women in the Guardian. Or, you can join the second annual Women in the World Stories and Solutions summit starting Thursday, March 10th.
Finally, I want to thank Anna, who I no longer know, for giving me that rose over 30 years ago. With that simple gesture, she brought me closer to a whole country of women seldom mentioned.