About 130 women gathered on March 5 to celebrate women, discuss factors that hinder parity, and to pledge to work to bring about gender equality at all levels and in all areas of life and work. The 3rd annual AFRICaide’s International Women’s Day 2016 Celebration at Christ Presbyterian Church was a great chance for area women to share information and to network with each other on important women’s issues.

“I felt like there were a lot of new people at the event this year. I’d say that I only recognized about half from previous years. I’m very happy with how everything went,” Emilie Songolo, founder of AFRICaide and organizer of the event, tells Madison365. “When you have so many people at the event from all walks of life, you have to really make sure that the event is good. We had so many people asking that we do it again and telling us that it was uplifting. It was interesting to see people sitting in their chairs at the beginning and as the day went by they were up and about sharing really personal things and trusting each other.”

AFRICaide is a grassroots non-profit organization that Songolo founded in 2005 that strives to reduce abject poverty in Africa through rural development projects, and to empower and assist female victims of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo in rebuilding their lives. This was the third year that AFRICaide hosted the event.

“We got very lucky because so many people volunteered their time to help with this event,” Songolo said. “I think that says a lot about the value of these types of gatherings.”

International Women’s Day, originally called International Working Women’s Day, is marked on March 8 every year. In different regions the focus of the celebrations range from general celebration of respect, appreciation, and love towards women to a celebration for women’s economic, political, and social achievements. This year marks the 105th celebration of International Women’s Day – an event that predates women’s right to vote in the U.S. and the U.K.

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

The goal of the AFRICaide’s International Women’s Day 2016 Celebration was to inspire attendees to empower themselves and to empower women everywhere. “We have this thing where we pledge to do whatever we can at the individual level to make a difference where we function whether it be our community circle, family, or work,” Songolo said. “Because this is something where we all have responsibility — and it’s not just limited to women — to work to eliminate disparities.”

Despite amazing gains for and by women over the past century, the World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133. “A year after launching that they discovered that things are actually slowing down especially in the area of employment and compensation,” she said. “That’s something we hope to change.”

At AFRICaide’s International Women’s Day 2016, women networked and shared their experiences while discussing their strategies for the future.

An expert panel on mental health was led by Dr. Ketty Thertus, a psychosomatic psychiatrist, who broke down the health care system in Wisconsin. She talked about the disparities in gender and between ethnic groups and the challenges that medical professionals were facing moving forward. “It was very interesting to have somebody like her share those types of things,” Songolo said. “She was amazing. She is originally from Haiti and grew up in the United States and has been in Wisconsin for less than a year.”

Keynote speaker Nia Enemuoh-Trammell (left) and event organizer Emilie Songolo (Photo by Hedi Lamarr Rudd)
Keynote speaker Nia Enemuoh-Trammell (left) and event organizer Emilie Songolo
(Photo by Hedi Lamarr Rudd)

The keynote address “Pledge For Parity” was given by Nia Enemuoh-Trammell, an administrative law judge for the State of Wisconsin in the Worker’s Compensation Division. She spoke from her own experiences about the importance of mentoring other women and how she fights through some of the adversity that she encounters in her daily life.

“Her talk was very empowering,” Songolo said. “Sometimes as women, we think that we need to be fighting aggressively all the time and she talked about the power of community and shared her ten pearls of wisdom.”

Breakout sessions at the event included “Empowering Women to Achieve Their Ambitions and Goals” with Dr. Tina Hallis and “Aging and Caregiving” with Dr. Barbara Bowers.

“In some regards, it was hard to get women into the sessions because the women were socializing and networking,” Songolo smiled. “There was buzzing all over.”

At lunchtime, Trailblazer Awards were present to Enemuoh-Trammell, YWCA CEO Rachel Krinsky, and the husband-and-wife team of Dr. Virginia Henderson and Dr. Perry Henderson.

“It was beautiful to see all of these women from all walks of life sharing with each other,” Songolo said. “It was something that was very helpful and very healthy in terms of dealing with life and moving forward. Ultimately, we want women to learn something and go home with a tip or two and maybe also a new friend or two.”