International Women’s Day

Publisher: Alex Hylka

A few years ago, I worked as an Event Specialist for corporate grocery retail. My job included leading cooking demonstrations and creating department and storewide events. In early March, the Marketing Specialist at my store asked if I could help with a marketing project – celebrating International Women’s Day. She said that we would be taking flowers to the local, women-owned businesses. When I reflect upon that afternoon, I did not realize the impact it would have on me.

We placed small bouquets in Ball jars and packed them into her car. With a list of businesses to visit, we drove around the Sauganash neighborhood. We presented bouquets to local female business owners. For me, it was quite awkward at first. It felt out of place to give flowers to strangers. But that quickly melted away with their expressions of surprise, gratitude, delight, and joy. With each bouquet, I began to reciprocate their feelings. 

Throughout the afternoon, we talked about International Women’s Day. We discussed the importance of recognizing the holiday and women in the community. It was the first time I’d celebrated. As a result of this experience, I marked the day in following years by creating time and space to uplift women around me. In many situations, I created events. However, the COVID-19 pandemic severely changed the dynamic of these celebrations. 

Previous and Current International Women’s Day Events 

For example, in 2017 I created the International Women’s Day Dinner Crawl in Edgewater to highlight local, women-owned businesses. Guests chose a route, purchased tickets, and sampled food and drink. The event ran for two years and featured over 20 female entrepreneurs each year. It also benefited GirlForward, a local non-profit. The organization serves as “a community of support dedicated to creating and enhancing opportunities for girls who have been displaced globally by conflict and persecution.” Further, I coordinated women-owned vendors to pop-up each weekend of Women’s History Month in the Ravenswood neighborhood in 2021. This year, the Chamber of Commerce shortened the pop-up to a single event, in a larger venue. 

International Women’s Day Dinner Crawl Featured in the Chicago Tribune, 2017
Women’s History Month in Lincoln Square Ravenswood, 2021

International Women’s Day in the Present-Day Climate

As a result of current events, International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month feels quite different. It feels more somber than celebratory. First, we are watching horrific events unfold in the Ukraine. On International Women’s Day, images of Ukranian women receiving flowers filled my social media feed. While my heart breaks for Ukraine, I also wish people had the same reaction to similar situations. For example, I wish that similar conflicts received the level of media coverage and resulting out-pouring of support. For instance, NPR cited the similar conflict in Ethiopia (NPR, 2022). In the fashion industry, Gigi Hadid committed her earnings from Fashion Month to both Ukraine and Palestine. Originally, Vogue amplified these contributions on social media. However, they edited the latter country from their post. Due to backlash, they have since edited the caption to include it (Daily Mail, 2022).

Women and the LGBTQIA+ Community

Furthermore, people continue to attack women and the LGBTQIA+ community. Numerous states in this country are in the process to pass legislation that actively harms this community, especially youth. These measures cover school policies, access to healthcare, and permission to play sports.

First, some legislation restricts topics of discussion in schools. Topics include sexual orientation and gender identity. “With more than half of Black LGBTQ students saying they feel unsafe in school due to their sexual orientation and gender identity, according to a 2020 survey from the LGBTQ youth advocacy group GLSEN and the National Black Justice Coalition, advocates say the “Don’t Say Gay” bill will have an outsize effect on students of color (NBC, 2022).

Second, access to healthcare is in danger. Idaho took measures even further than other states. They passed legislation to criminalize “cases of transgender children traveling to other states to obtain certain medical procedures” (NBC, 2022). Furthermore, Missouri introduced a bill to criminalize abortions in the case of ectopic pregnancies. If passed, consequences could result in up to 30 years in prison. However, ectopic pregnancies are fatal for the fetus and frequently fatal for the pregnant person (The Hill, 2022).

Third, other legislation aims to prohibit transgender athletes from participating in sports. In South Carolina, “the “Save Women’s Sports Act” intends to determine an athlete’s participation on a male or female team according to their birth certificate. “Women deserve to compete on a fair and level playing field, and allowing males to compete in women’s sports destroys fair competition and women’s athletic opportunities,” Matt Sharp of the Alliance Defending Freedom said (WIS News, 2022). However, LGBTQIA+ advocates argue that the bill is unnecessary and will have worse outcomes for transgender youth (WIS News, 2022).

Freedom For All Americans hosts a legislative tracker for an overview of the bills. 

Attacks on Asian Women

In the United States, Asian women of all ages are continuously targeted. One year ago, a man notoriously had a “bad day,” that resulted in the loss of lives of Asian women. The disregard for Asian lives has continued. In New York City, two doormen closed the door to their building while a man attacked an Asian woman just outside (CNN, 2021). Even 18-year-old Olympic Gold Medalist Sunisa Lee reported an incident. The NPR article reported that “Over 9,000 hate incidents occurred between March 2020 and June 2021, according to the group Stop AAPI Hate” (NPR, 2021). These numbers only reflect reported situations.

And they have continued. Every day, I read about a new incident. One day a man fatally pushed an Asian woman onto the tracks of public transportation. Next, a man followed and stabbed an Asian woman to death. Another time, a person punched an Asian woman over 100 times. According to the Philippine Consulate General, “The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin on 7 February 2022.” The Department issued the notice due to heightened terrorism threat.

Last year, while out on a run, a man in a car followed me in a threatening manner. Out of fear for my safety, I could not run outdoors by myself for months. Recently, on my way to the office, there was a verbal altercation on the train between two men. One of the men was Asian. Eventually he exited the train. As he left, he asserted that he was not afraid of defending himself.

Hate Crimes Against Asian American and Pacific Islanders

According to Stop AAPI Hate, “From March 19, 2020 to December 31, 2021, a total of 10,905 hate incidents against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) persons occurred. Of the hate incidents reflected in this report, 4,632 occurred in 2020 (42.5%) and 6,273 occurred in 2021 (57.5%). Hate incidents reported by women make up 61.8% of all reports” (Stop AAPI Hate, 2021). Again, these numbers only reflect reported incidents. Every day, the Asian community is experiencing hate across generations and the country.  

Have Hope 

This post did not even discuss the continued injustices to Black women. There are many conversations on this topic – enough to fill future blog posts. This year, celebrating International Women’s Day felt almost empty. However, I cannot end this reflection in such a bleak manner. Because there is hope. 

First, I see hope in my family, in our work to break traumatic, intergenerational cycles. In addition, I find it in new milestones to the political sphere. For example, I find hope in the increase of women elected as alders in Chicago. We witnessed women like Dr. Ngozi Ezike as the former Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). She was the first Black woman appointed to lead the 143-year old state agency (IDPH, 2022). Furthermore, she led our state through the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic with grace, strength, and intelligence. On a larger scale, I regain faith in the future through the increase of women within the US Congress.

Next, I see it every day at ICOY. We led by a female CEO and Chief Program Officer. In addition, all but one of our Directors are female. Additionally, most are from a marginalized community. My co-workers’ intelligence, organization, partnership, and dedication to the youth of Illinois inspire me every day. Collectively, we work to create a brighter future. One that can proudly celebrate all women on International Women’s Day. 

Strength in Women

Therefore, I propose a challenge. There is a quote, “Strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.” However, I think this phrase could be discussed to a deeper level. Honesty, vulnerability, and empathy should accompany this strength. If there’s shade being thrown at another woman, question it. Is it because there is a deeper, personal insecurity? Is it because our society has become conditioned by toxic masculinity? And as a result, women often see each other as a threat? I challenge myself and others to reflect on how we show-up for all women, including women of color, transgender women, and additional marginalized communities. Let us use our strength to protect and uplift the most neglected women to genuinely celebrate International Women’s Day and every day.  

ICOY Staff Contributions

Written by Communications & Marketing Manager Melissa Franada. All photos by Melissa Franada. She is also a member of ICOY’s DEI Committee. Editing contributions by ICOY CEO Andrea Durbin and Director of Programs Randi Slack. Find more information on the ICOY Staff.


  • “A New York man was charged with hate crimes after allegedly attacking several Asian women in a 2-hour time period,” CNN, 2022
  • “Black, Latino queer students say they are on edge in the wake of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill,” NBC News, 2022
  • “Details have emerged about Brittney Griner’s arrest in Russia. But questions remain over her current whereabouts,” CNN, 2022 
  • “Idaho lawmakers seek to punish parents who take trans youth to other states for health care,” NBC News, 2022
  • Illinois Department of Public Health, Department Overview,
  • “Missouri bill seeks to ban terminating life-threatening ectopic pregnancies,” The Hill, 2022
  • National Report (Through December 31, 2021), Stop AAPI Hate, 2022 
  • “Not every war gets the same coverage as Russia’s invasion — and that has consequences,” NPR, 2022 
  • “Olympic gymnast Sunisa Lee says she was pepper-sprayed in a racist attack in LA,” NPR, 2022 
  • “Two New York doormen who closed the doors while an Asian woman was attacked have been fired,” CNN, 2021
  • “Transgender youth sports ban back for debate in SC,” WIS News, 2022
  • “Vogue scrubs mention of Palestine from Instagram post about Gigi Hadid vowing to donate her fashion show earnings to the country and to Ukraine after the magazine was accused of ‘fanning the flames of anti-Semitism,’” Daily Mail, 2022 
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