By Jane Ferreira
International Women’s Day historically originated from the labor movements at the turn of the 20th century in North America and in Europe, which focused on the horrendous working conditions of women. Since 1909, women have raised their voices for the end of their continued oppression throughout our global communities. Today, International Women’s Day has unprecedented attention throughout the world for women’s rights, equality and justice. The current discourse demands an end to sexual harassment, violence and discrimination against women. The peaceful marches of our past have reemerged and call for change and progress not just in words, but also in actions.
From my perspective as an educator, I see this change occurring. We need to reflect on what we see and experience every day in our lives. How are women portrayed — on the screen, in the news, in our workplace, in literature, on the street, and in our homes? Is there equality? Is there justice? Consider the facts — the data on women’s educational levels, medical access, salary levels, provisions for legal protection, abilities to provide for their families, etc. Is there bias? Is there inequality? What am I doing to change this?
I am employed at the Mercy Learning Center which is a 31-year-old, nonprofit literacy center that works only with women; in particular those who are undereducated and economically challenged. Some of our students never had a chance in the public educational system, some have migrated from other countries, and some have never held a textbook in hand. There are all kinds of inequalities and injustices found in our student population. However, with the gift of education a student’s life and family is transformed. A woman’s life changes when she learns how to read, how to speak English, how to calculate numbers, how to use a computer, and how to be her own advocate. This is change. This is making a difference!
At Mercy Learning Center men and women — volunteers — come forward every year to make women’s lives better through education. They are celebrating every day “international women’s day” right here on Park Avenue in Bridgeport! All of us at Mercy Learning Center are committed to “educating a woman … educating a family,” so that our students can have better opportunities. We have witnessed the inequalities; have heard the injustices; together we are doing something about it on a daily basis.
The City of Bridgeport is privileged to have so many wonderful cultures reflected in our schools, centers of worship and in our neighborhoods. We, at the Mercy Learning Center, are enriched by the diversity of these many cultures and are fortunate to have volunteers from Bridgeport and so many surrounding communities who want to make a difference and transform lives.
Jane Ferreira is CEO of Mercy Learning Center of Bridgeport.