• Maura McAndrew

Celebrate International Women's Day with Our Italian & Mexican Study Centers

Happy International Women's Day! OU's International Study Centers, OU in Arezzo (Italy) and OU in Puebla (Mexico) will be collaborating throughout Women's History Month, exploring women's history, culture and more in Italy and Mexico. Follow @ouinarezzo (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat) and @ouinpuebla (Instagram) to keep up, and read more below on the history of women's rights in Italy and Mexico and the meaning of this special day.


Italy: Festa Della Donna

In Italy the fight for women’s rights has been long, hard and very often hindered. In 2019 the World Economic Forum report on gender equality stated that Italy was the 76th country out of 153, due to its patriarchal heritage, which saw women consistently barred from higher education, public and political life, and confined to the domestic sphere of the family as daughter, wife or mother.


The first scent of change dates back to 1874 when women gained the right to study in high schools and universities. As a consequence of World War I, when they took the place of their husbands while at war, women were allowed to work in public offices. However, this newly gained freedom was put into question by the Fascist regime, which saw women’s duty as being purely that of procreation.

During World War II more than 50,000 women took part in the partisan movement to liberate Italy from the Nazi-Fascist regime. After the war many of them were awarded with the badge of honor. That same year, women’s suffrage was approved and on June 2, 1946 all Italian women could vote for the first time. In 1948 the third article of the Italian Constitution guaranteed equal rights and social dignity to women in all fields.


Nevertheless, there was still a long way to go. In the 1960’s, feminist movements began to spread around the country, focusing on the need to gain autonomy in areas such as birth control and marriage, but also political participation and social change. Women in Italy today have gained much from those earlier struggles: the legal and social status of women has been transformed, yet the battle continues on issues such as gender-based violence, reproduction rights, equal pay and the representation of women in positions of leadership, as well as politics.

The issue of women’s rights is not specific to single countries or communities. This is not one gender fighting against the other. On this day, men and women are invited to stand side-by-side to break down the walls of discrimination. In Italy, the yellow mimosa flower is the symbol of International Women’s Day, chosen in 1946 by three female politicians, because it flowered in March and was easy to find growing wild in the fields, therefore affordable and accessible to all. Since then, women are given bunches of mimosa flowers every March 8th as a symbol of solidarity and support.


Left: OU in Arezzo spring semester students celebrate Festa Della Donna at the Rooney Family Residential Learning Center.










Mexico: Día Internacional de la Mujer


Feminism and women’s emancipation movements have had long histories in Mexico, and Mexican women have long fought against the patriarchal foundation and attitudes in the country. While there are few institutional inequalities for women, women in Mexico still face discrimination as a result of long-standing social and cultural expectations.

Portrait of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz by Miguel Cabrera, public domain.

On International Women's Day and throughout Women's History Month, Mexicans celebrate influential women who have fought discrimination and worked to achieve equality throughout the nation's history. One such icon Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, an outspoken scholar and nun who lived in the 17th century. Sor Juana was a poet and philosopher who pushed back against hypocrisy in men’s attitudes towards women in works like the poem “Hombres necios que acusáis,” or “foolish men.” Sor Juana remains a well-known symbol of feminism in Mexico, revered alongside later figures like the 20th-century painter Frida Kahlo. Like Sor Juana, Kahlo challenged gender roles in her work and her life, blending masculine and feminine elements.


Though early trailblazers like Sor Juana were fighting for women's equality much earlier, the term "feminism" only came into usage in Mexico in the late 19th century, and organizing among women grew in the early 20th century. Women played a key role as soldiers in the Mexican Revolution, with poor mestiza and indigenous women making up a large portion of the revolutionary forces, serving in both support and combat roles. However, in spite of the role women played in the successful revolution, the new constitution offered little in the way of gender equality. This unequal treatment built momentum for the women's rights movement in the first half of the 20th century, and Mexican women began holding demonstrations for equal representation. Though progress was frustratingly slow, women finally gained the right to vote in Mexico in 1953.


Women in Mexico have since continued to push for equality in other arenas, and change is coming bit by bit. For much of its history, Mexico has been a largely rural country, but has slowly become predominantly urban. Women’s roles have changed in response to this shift, with more Mexican women now in the workforce than ever before. Unfortunately, there is a long way to go: women still only account for approximately 40%, despite the fact that they outnumber men by 5% in the country. Likewise, an official rule stating that political parties’ candidates cannot make up more than 70% of one gender offered hope for women in politics. However, in practice, the rule often translates to a mere 30% of candidates being women — and many of these token female candidates renounce their appointment, handing it to a male running mate and making this gender mandate a formality.

International Women's Day March in Mexico, 2020. Samantha Pantoja from México, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, many women still fight for truly equal socio-political consideration, advocating for reproductive, educational and economic equality. Since the late 1980s, indigenous feminism has taken a larger role in the grand scheme of feminist discourse in Mexico. This has helped to emphasize intersectional feminism by recognizing struggles unique to indigenous women, who are arguably the most historically marginalized group in Mexico. And International Women's Day and Women's History Month have become popular opportunities to stage demonstrations and push for justice on a number of issues. On March 9, 2020, just following International Women's Day, Mexican women organized “Un Día Sin Mujeres,” or “A Day without Women," which called upon women to stay home from school or work. This refusal to participate in society for a full day demonstrated women's impact in the country; photos from the day showed eerily calm cities and workplaces, normally flooded with activity. Demonstrations like this will no doubt continue in Mexico, as women join together in the struggle for greater equality and an end to discrimination.