Woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression.” ~ Margaret Sanger

Flashback to a little over 20 years ago: A small group of about 8-year old boys carefully places snowdrops and bright red carnations on the desks of little girls in a classroom—perhaps to avoid the awkward task of actually offering them the flowers in person… A clever move indeed. This small gesture symbolizes the boys’ appreciation for the fairer sex, as well as a firm belief that at some point in the future the little ladies from their elementary school will accomplish great things, like… driving a tractor, or maybe working in a steel factory—but surely, they will give birth to the next generation of Communist heroes. It is March 8th 1988; International Women’s Day (IWD) behind the Iron Curtain, and one of the girls surprised with the flower-explosion on her school desk is me…

Now, in 2011, I don’t drive a tractor and have never been to a steel factory; but I successfully graduated from college, have an MBA and gave birth to a little Capitalist (referring here to my son, who is a US citizen…). The nature and scope of International Women’s Day has also gone through a similar, fundamental transformation: March 8th has lost its original Socialist/Communist connotation and became a day when individuals around the world recognize and celebrate women’s social, economic and political accomplishments and draw our attention to the numerous manifestations of unequal treatment and hardships modern day women still endure.

Not only individuals, but many organizations and institutions, like the UN or the Red Cross for instance, also have been very successful at adding momentum to International Women’s Day with their strong commitment and effective awareness-raising campaigns on women’s causes. (Just to mention a few of the UN themes for IWD: ‘Equal rights, equal opportunities’; ‘Gender equality and the Millennium Development Goals’ or ‘Women uniting for Peace’.)

Today, on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, it is definitely an appropriate time to pause and reflect on women’s past, present and probable versus desired future—regardless of whether you are a passionate IWD-supporter or an IWD-skeptic.

While the UN and other IGOs and NGOs make a brilliant effort to highlight and address unresolved issues related to women’s status and treatment worldwide, you can also contribute on a personal level to the continued growth and empowerment of women and to improvements in their quality of life.

The most crucial thing you can do right now is to simply start with yourself and examine if you are working in the metaphorical ‘steel factory’ just because those around you insisted that that was your only possible path. Or perhaps you are a girl or a woman suffering in silence from a form of abuse… Speak up and encourage others, but most importantly, see the potential in yourself and act on it!

Today, I celebrate this potential with nine other women by unveiling the Red Thread Foundation—our own carnation to you, if you will, to symbolize women’s strength, courage, and endless possibility.

For more information on International Women’s Day and its celebration around the world, please visit www.internationalwomensday.com.