It’s March 8, 2023. Between a “voice activation” exercise where we shout “no” at high, higher, and highest volume and a round of practicing palm heel strikes, my phone pings over and over. I’ve received a flood of messages wishing me a “Happy International Women’s Day.”

I send back a few emojis without too much enthusiasm and continue with my empowerment self-defense (ESD) class. The participants yell, strike, play, and discuss gender issues. It’s neither a protest nor a celebration for March 8th; it’s part of the daily struggle for a world without violence against women.

I work towards that world—a world where everyone can live with the freedom and dignity we demand each year on March 8th—every single day.

This year will likely be similar. In over five years of teaching self-defense workshops, I’ve noticed a pattern: there is a spike in demand for classes during key dates like March 8th (International Women’s Day) and November 25th (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women). A month before, several companies, municipalities, hotels, and other groups call us to schedule activities. And at the same time, allied groups ask us if we will be participating in marches around the country.

Every person in the Mujeres Fuertes Autodefensa network makes their own decisions. I tend to choose to give workshops on those dates.

Of course, I’m thrilled that there are so many institutions and communities that want to commemorate March 8th with empowerment and violence prevention education. It is an aligned way to recognize women’s struggle for justice throughout history, which, as I understand it, is exactly the point of March 8th. I am inspired to see so many people take to the streets, from the center of San José to the beaches of Guanacaste and Limón.

I don’t even mind—too much—when people congratulate me for being a woman, even though they don’t do it any other day of the year, and even though I believe the day deserves more solidarity than congratulations.

What disappoints me is the lack of interest (and funds, and participation) in justice and violence prevention the other 364 days of the year. In the context of my work, an introductory empowerment self-defense (ESD) workshop of around two or three hours is a start, not the final goal. Of course, it’s better than nothing, and people can learn key tools to empower their personal safety in a very short time.

But on March 8th, I would love to see all the companies, institutions, and individuals who support women’s rights back up their words with a larger time investment. In a 12-hour ESD course, lives can be transformed and statistics can be changed. In an annual, ongoing, committed ESD course, a community and a culture can be transformed.

March 8th is a symbolic day that marks, represents, and commemorates a constant, generational struggle, which we continue to fight every day.

I invite everyone to remember that March 8th is not really a special day, but a day like any other, where it is our responsibility and privilege to raise our voices for justice, equality, peace, and freedom.

Originally published in Spanish at El Delfino.

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