Celebrating Women Virtually: programming provided to empower for International Women’s Day and Month

University of Iowa organizations and institutions are providing programming that focuses on leadership and self-preservation throughout March in celebration of International Women’s Day and Month.


Sid Peterson

The 2021 Women’s Leadership Initiative was held virtually on Friday, March 5, 2021. The leadership initiative is held annually and hosted every year on or Friday before the International Women’s Day.

Mary Hartel, News Reporter

Last year, International Women’s Day and Month were some of the last in-person community gatherings before the world shut down. This year, organizations and institutions across Iowa City and the University of Iowa are finding new ways to celebrate and uplift women throughout the month.

As a collaboration among the UI’s Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and other women-centered organizations, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Faculty Fellow Michele Williams, who is also an assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship and a John L. Miclot Fellow in Entrepreneurship of the Tippie College of Business, spoke at the annual Women’s Leadership Initiative virtual event on Friday.

The collaboration happens every year on the Friday before International Women’s Day on Monday. This year the talk was titled, “Owning your Leadership.”

The Office of Multicultural and International Student Support and Engagement’s annual Womxn’s Summit will also be taking on a virtual format this year. The normally one-day in-person conference will now be divided into a 3-weekend series beginning March 13.

Co-advisor for the Womxn’s Summit and Coordinator of the Latino Native American Cultural Center Isabela Flores, said since its beginning, the Summit has maintained a conference-style format that the team wanted to maintain this year while capitalizing on weekends.

Starting March 13, the Womxn Summit will host virtual events, workshops and activities every weekend in the month of March, Flores said. The first weekend will kick off with a collaboration with the Womxn of Color Network, Flores said.

Since its inaugural summit in 2018, Flores said the intention has always been to foster community among women of all identities.

“We weren’t going to give that away,” Flores said. “These students and these people just need to know that they’re valued and that they can take up space, and that’s okay. And we will provide that space for them to take up so that they feel empowered.”

Last year’s theme was “CommUNITY,” Flores said, and was geared toward coalition building. This year’s theme is “Power and Preservation,” she said, and focuses on what that looks like in every aspect of life.

The Womxn’s Summit was one of the final things the organization got to do last year before the pandemic, Flores said, who has worked on the Summit since its inception three years ago.

Flores said each year, the team gets more critical of how they can improve the conference and make it more inclusive and accessible.

The most beautiful part of the Womxn’s Summit is that it caters to people wherever they are in their journeys, Flores said.

“It doesn’t matter if you are just now starting, if this is your first time even identifying as a woman of color specifically, or you’ve known your lived experience,” Flores said, “…and this is what you are, and this is how you operate in the world, and you have a better understanding of what that means.”

Co-advisor of the Womxn Summit Prisma Ruacho, who is also the coordinator for the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center, said this year’s “Power and Preservation” theme comes from a quote by American intersectional writer Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

There will be different subthemes interwoven throughout the summit, including identity, relationships, self-preservation, and sex positivity, Ruacho said.

Ruacho said COVID-19 influenced this year’s theme in that the team wanted to help women understand what it means to care for themselves and to preserve their energy.

“Over the pandemic, you’re setting those boundaries of your own health of your own time of your own mental health,” Ruacho said. “So, I think that really influenced a lot of how people have navigated this past year, academically, personally, [and] nationally.”

The summit is open to all community members, Ruacho said.

“I think by continuing this, we’re saying you can still have these relationships and they’re going to continue,” Ruacho said. “This is our fourth year, so potentially first-year students that came [in 2018], this is their fourth round of attending it and they’re growing each year. They’re learning each year, and they’re sustaining these relationships with people, especially now that we’re all virtual.”

UI junior Laxmi Annapureddy, who is a project co-lead for the Womxn’s Summit, said she started her position preparing for this year’s summit in January and was on the exec board for the event last year.

Annapureddy said her work has focused on identifying speakers, scheduling, and facilitating collaboration with the Women’s Resource and Action Center and the Womxn of Color network.

Although the event is entirely virtual this year, Annapureddy said the initiative is even more hands-on than in previous years.

There have been pros and cons to the virtual setting, Annapureddy said, but she thinks the challenging aspect of trying to keep things engaging has spurred a lot of creativity.

She added that advocacy across college campuses is important because they are filled with young and passionate people.

The Summit focuses on the intersection of all identities, Annapureddy said, and aims to provide people with unique or niche experiences, a support system, resources, and space.

“I think especially among women of color, or LGBTQ members, or anyone who’s had a role with self-advocacy, or advocating for others, they often feel this burden or this responsibility to always be doing that,” Annapureddy said. “It’s difficult to step back and not feel bad about it, so we really wanted to emphasize that this year. That’s part of helping take care of your communities.”