“I love the energy at this event. It’s just so beautiful,” says Emilie Songolo. “The beautiful energy that comes from the sisterhood of women who have never met and some who knew one another and are getting reacquainted. There is just this overwhelming positive energy that comes from this International Women’s Day event.

“There is a ton of educational information at the event, but what I love is that we are leaving the place feeling stronger as women,” she adds.

Songolo is the founder of AFRICaide and organizer of the 6th annual AFRICaide’s International Women’s Day Celebration, which will be held this Saturday, March 2, at DeJope Residence Hall on the UW-Madison campus. AFRICaide is a grassroots non-profit organization based in Madison that strives to reduce abject poverty in Africa through rural development projects.

“From the feedback we’ve gotten over the years, we keep improving the event and fine-tuning it really to meet the expectations that the women who come have for us,” Songolo tells Madison365. “This year, because of the gender balance theme, we want to talk more about that so we will have a panel that will be about women driving gender balance. Locally, we know quite a few women who have done a lot to close the gap.”

3rd annual AFRICaide’s International Women’s Day 2016 Celebration
(Photo by Hedi Lamarr Rudd)

Traditionally, the event brings together women of all races, ages, religions, socioeconomic status, sexual orientations and backgrounds to listen to speakers and panels and enjoy a day of sisterhood in honor of International Women’s Day, which is observed globally March 8. It’s a day to highlight and reflect on the work of those who have been engaged in improving conditions for women locally, nationally, and internationally.

That panel discussion, Songolo says, will be very interesting because one of the panelists will be a teenager – Maka Chikowero, who as a fifth-grade student at Shorewood Hills Elementary School earned recognition from the United Nations for being an exemplary leader in her school and community.

“She led this action in her classroom which led to a whole group writing to the Legos company about the gender imbalance – lack of girls in the Lego set. So, now if [your daughter] Luna has a lego set, there’s probably a girl in it,” Songolo laughs. “And that came from a girl in Madison!”

Mai Zong Vue

The keynote speaker for the event will be Mai Zong Vue, a Hmong community leader. Attendees are encouraged (though not required) to wear purple to the event and to also use the hashtag #BalanceforBetter for the “Better The Balance, Better The World” theme.

“It’s open to everybody. Anybody can come,” Songolo says. “More and more we’re trying to reach out to girls because by the time we start talking about these issues, it may be too late for some of us. We’d really like to have more girls come to this event. So, parents can bring their daughters or girls that they know in the community and that they mentor.

“The goal of the conference is to really talk about the gender gap and the importance of closing it because we cannot have a better world if women and girls are left behind,” Songolo continues. “We are really going to help people understand from all levels – from household to city to state to national to international – that we need action. We need policy. We need an understanding that we cannot continue like this if women and girls are left behind.”

Women at last year’s AFRICaide’s International Women’s Day Celebration
(Photo by Hedi Rudd)

Songolo says that some people have already begun to understand this already. “For example, the business community is realizing that they are more successful as they are bringing more diversity and more women on board,” she says. “From 1909 when women workers in New York City first walked to demand better working conditions, women haven’t been silent about this. We saw with the last Congressional elections that women said, ‘Nope. We are going to get more engaged and run for elections and get more seats.’

“I think that this is a question that we need to be more bold about and by the end of the day we’re hoping that those that come to the event – at every level – will do what they can do to better the world when it comes to the gender gap,” she adds.

For more information or to register to the 6th annual AFRICaide’s International Women’s Day Celebration, click here.