By Paulette Johnson, 1199SEIU delegate and CNA at Regency Heritage Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Editor’s note: On Saturday, March 8th, 1199SEIU members hosted their second annual International Women’s Day celebration at the Rutgers Labor Education Center in New Brunswick, NJ. Labor unions, community groups, and elected leaders from across New Jersey participated in the event which featured speeches from working women who are fighting to end the exploitation of workers and win justice for working families.

As we celebrate another International Women’s Day, we can’t help but reflect on the journey that brought us here. We can’t embrace the present and look forward to the future if we forget where we are coming from. This is why we have to pay tribute to those trailblazers of the past who paved the way defying the odds, sometimes at tremendous costs, so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.

Let us be reminded that there was a time in our history when women did not have the right to vote. They could not run for political offices nor could they seek offices within the church. They could not own their own bank accounts nor did they have access to reliable birth control. Imagine not having the right to education and employment opportunities. Yes, we have made significant strides in our fight for equality and justice, and while we celebrate the social, political and economic successes of women, we still have to be reminded that there is work to be done because inequities still exist.

Women are still not paid equally for work done as men.

Women are still not represented in government and the private sector equally.

Women still have to conquer the demon of domestic violence, whether it is emotional, psychological or physical. And then there is the area of female trafficking which has gained international significance. Women and children are being exploited for economic and personal gains.

How do we move forward?

Women’s issues and struggles are similar globally. How they are dealt with can be a complex, long process depending on where in the world you are, but quitting should never be an option. The collective voice of women has power and it is that power which will inspire change.

In my home country of Jamaica, for instance, women for the most part head the household and by virtue of that position become the main bread winner. However, in an environment where unemployment is very high, the vast majority of women is faced with the dilemma of either seeking help from the absent “baby father” or engaging in inappropriate activities. It was against this background that outspoken women of the day, championing progressive policies geared at improving women’s right to a better life, won the establishment of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs. The Bureau’s mandate is to “act as a catalyst to ensure that government addresses the problems that confront women given the impact of patriarchy and sexism.”

The challenge to every woman today and going forward therefore, is to never be complacent. Ladies, we still live in a male dominated society.

As women, let’s continue to make a difference. Let’s continue to help create a world that is safe and equal for our women and young girls.

Let us move forward inspiring change with commitment, courage and character.