International Women’s Day, HeForShe, and solidarity in a city of millions

Photos by Theresa Shim
Photos by Theresa Shim

The call for women and men alike to come together resounded around the world on March 8. The day, known as International Women’s Day, brought women, men, and the non-binary together. In New York City, the HeForShe press conference kicked off HeForShe and United Nations (UN) Women’s second Arts Week, which celebrates and encourages gender diversity in the arts.

The pathetic fallacy and good fortune of vibrant, sunny weather over the course of the day only added to already uplifted spirits. Framed by powerful speeches and a fantastic sense of community, International Women’s Day marched to its own beat — a significantly poignant and politically-charged drum.

IMG_0405At 8:30 a.m., HeForShe brought together members of the media and New York City to sit in a conversation with prominent figures in HeForShe’s impressive network. In attendance were Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of The Public Theatre; Bjarni Benediktsson, Prime Minister of Iceland; Chirlane McCray, First Lady of New York City; and Édgar Ramírez, actor and UNICEF Goodwill ambassador.


Now in its second year, HeForShe Arts Week is seeking more progress in gender equity in the arts, a problem often addressed in the media by way of looking at the ratio between men and women in the field.

IMG_0418Executive director of UN Women Phumzile Miambo-Ngcuka helped kick off the event alongside First Lady McCray.

“We are all shaped by culture, and the arts play a crucial role in reflecting and evolving that culture for better or worse,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka. “This week provokes a closer look at the deep gender biases that still exist within the artistic industries, and – having seen and recognized them — to change them for good.”

As the press conference wrapped up, women gathered at a variety of events set up by faculty and students from institutions such as Parsons University, New York University, and Columbia University. These spanned the entire day, including educational lectures, free workshops, speeches, and a rally. The rallies brought large gatherings of people together at prominent parts of Manhattan. The first event of the day was A Day Without Women, put together by the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington. This event proved to be as equally well-organized and poignant as the march in January, after President Trump’s inauguration. It followed the same formula: speeches, spoken word, musical performances — all in recognition and support of all women around the world.

IMG_0562With a final resounding cheer to conclude the rally, the crowd — consisting largely of women — chanted and marched across 59th street to Trump International Hotel, seeking to establish a human wall as a message to the president.

While the rally was well-controlled by police, who primarily sought to clear public sidewalks for passersby, the movement of the throng of protesters came to a halt at Columbus Circle. Protesters then refused to move, blocking traffic until police officers arrested a group of people, primarily consisting of the Women’s March organizers. One person arrested was Linda Sarsour, a National Co-Chair of the Women’s March, who earlier delivered a powerful speech to the gathering on 5th Avenue and 59th Street.

“These fights are old fights,” exclaimed Sarsour earlier, at the helm of the crowd. “People sacrificed for all of us to be able to come and stand here today — and I want to send a message to people out there talking about strikes being an act of privilege, because that statement comes from people who lack an understanding of history.”

The significance of these gatherings is not lost on the women who are actively participating. Mariana Vasquez is a New Yorker, having lived in NYC for the past 17 years. She threw her support behind these movements as a woman of colour herself.

Vasquez said she was “supporting a right and fair way of living for everybody.”

“I think that by having the rallies and having the marches gives empowerment and it gives them an opportunity to join with other like-mindeds, whether it’s on a personal level, whether it’s as a friend, or an organization,” Vasquez said.

IMG_0470Annie Sidou, a woman who took the day off work from her firm, boldly represented her womanhood with a crafty vulva poster.

“That is my mission — it has been since 2015. The idea of more women,” said Sidou.

Her bold visual stance drew outrage from a few Trump supporters on her way to the rally.

“I didn’t say anything,” Annie said. “I was just literally being a woman and it upset them. I think their outrage speaks volumes to the matters that we’re here talking about.”

Sidou also addressed a man who filmed himself verbally harassing her and her vulva poster with obscenities.

“As women, I think we’re kind of conditioned to ignore men who are sexually harassing us, whether it’s our own bodies or one that we’re carrying,” she said.

IMG_0486Later in the day, organizers put together a rally and a march that would start at Washington Square Park. The event itself contained speeches, diverse performances, and what felt like an even larger crowd than the one earlier in the day. Flags from countries around the world waved above the crowds while people packed into the park. Activists and groups provided insights from an assortment of communities, further cementing the diversity not only in New York City, but around the world. It was one of the most important highlights of the day: the intersectional feminism spreading throughout the city.