The eighth of March is International Women's Day which began in 1909 as a socialist political event to recognize women and has become a mix of Mother's Day and Valentine's Day for most of Eastern Europe. In fact when I went to Novi Sad Mima asked me to help her make a Mother's Day card for Irena. Though she's only ten I took the soapbox opportunity and explained March eighth was a day to acknowledge all women and their rights, not simply mothers. As I was leaving on Sunday she handed me a card that instructed no peeking until Tuesday and when Tuesday came I received felicitations of sisterhood. Perhaps she didn't quite get the point, but I got the sweetest card to add to my gallery of Mima's artwork.
Flowers were sold everywhere on Tuesday because it's the customary gift for mothers and female teachers. It's not the recipients in this situation who irk me, quite the contrary I think teachers and mothers deserve to be honored every day, but on a day established to celebrate the rights of women those rights should be the focus in my opinion. However I haven't ever seen any sort of women's display in Hawaii on the previous eights so at least some women are being honored in Serbia even if it isn't for their rights so much as for their gender.
Nevertheless Jill's service placement Zenski Prostor (Women's Space) graciously invited our group to come with them to Belgrade and join in the annual Women's Day March. The boys decided not to take the offer but Asja, Jill, and I felt like marching. We left in a rented bus around 8am and because of an extended smoking break mid-way through our journey north, it took nearly 4 hours to get there. As soon as we arrived the women rushed us into a haze of smoke in a room reeking of cigarettes where flags, posters, banners, scarves, signs, hugs, and kisses were being distributed. The purported leader welcomed the gang and outlined the afternoon. The instructions' succinctness shed light on the level of planning gone into the day events. Though these women (and a few men) certainly had the vim and vigor to advocate women's rights around the entire continent, their plan of action was still in the developing phase which we've found to be very Serbian; the energy is there but the blueprint is usually less than thought through by Western standards. And yet things always turn out alright. Perhaps we should take a hint from the Serbs on this one.
We marched down and out in Belgrade for about 90 minutes, Jill and I clutching a large banner with the woman gender insignia and "Osmi Mart, Dan Zene" (March Eight, Women's Day), Asja and Ceca (who was already in Belgrade and would never miss an event like this) brandishing signs with "radnice niste same" (workers are not alone) and "radna prava zena" (women's working rights). Women's social and economic equality was the focal point of all the signs, speeches, and chants throughout the march and purple was the color of the hour. There were about five Roma women amongst the group of (I'm terrible at estimating) a few hundred women but they were not discriminated against as far as I could tell by the other women marching and they were holding their sign "Romkinje su deo zenskog pokreta" (Roma women are part of the women's movement). Roma women have it particularly rough because they are twice discriminated, from being Roma and women, and I was proud that at least a few were apart of the march. And alongside us there were a dozen or so armed police officers, helmets, batons, and all, which made us slightly apprehensive, but nary a violent instance occurred so all went well.
The most lucky aspect of the afternoon was that the sun shined brilliantly so even though it was a bit nippy the sunce was aglitter. The march came to a close at a small arena area with risers, a projection of footage and pictures from past Osmi Marts, and an array of food and drink for the marchers. After a bit of crowd-smoosing we took our seats and various individuals and groups took the floor with speech and verse. The songs were especially fun because they projected the lyrics on the wall and we or at least I went all out trying to guess the tune while trying not to butcher the language.
Soon after we packed up and bused back south to Nis, this time with only a fifteen minute smoking break for our bus-mates, so we made it back in about three hours. I'm very glad Jill's service placement invited us to participate in this annual action and all the girls of the BY Serbia group had fun representing our (superior) gender.