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On March 8, countries all around the world celebrated International Women’s Day. Being in Chile, I had no idea what to expect for this day. But when I walked into Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV), my Chilean university, I was surprised to see it had changed completely overnight. Banners and streamers hung from the walls, music was playing, and students were handing out flyers for a Women’s March that was to be held later in the day.
In the Commons, live poetry readings took place between classes. It seemed as if everyone was talking about International Women’s Day. Every professor focused their lecture around it, and many of my friends’ host parents gave them small presents or chocolate to celebrate. During one of my class breaks, I went to a cafe with some friends and our waiter congratulated us on “our day.” The city was buzzing with excitement. I had never experienced anything like it in the United States.
After talking about International Women’s Day with my host parents, I realized why there is such a drastic difference between the way it is celebrated in the U.S. and here in Chile. In Chile, women are severely disadvantaged compared to their male counterparts. There is a giant stigma against women due to the conservative, Catholic history of the country. Women are expected to stay at home, cook, clean, and take after the family. While divorce is technically legal in Chile, the law wasn’t passed until 2004, and divorced women are still looked down upon. For this reason, International Women’s Day is a huge milestone— not just because it celebrates the advancement of women’s rights, but because it acknowledges how much further there is to go.
Little did I know that later in the day, I would experience a reminder firsthand. After leaving a club in the evening, I was sexually harassed by a stranger as I walked home with my friends. Thankfully, I was able to get out of the situation quickly and safely— but it was a stark reminder to me that our work is not done in fighting for male and female rights and equality. It was also a wake-up call that sexual abuse and harassment happen all over the world, in every environment— at fraternity parties, on the streets, in the workplace, and even within relationships. The most we can do is call attention to the situation and demand every day for equality.
Experiencing International Women’s Day in Chile gave me hope that the world is heading in a positive direction. Feeling the energy on the streets and seeing the smiles of other women as they walked by made me realize that if every day were treated as International Women’s Day, we would see huge strides in female equality.