Thousands of women from across the United States took the day off Wednesday to show their economic value, in a move that coincided with International Women's Day.
The event, dubbed by organizers as “A Day Without a Woman,” was meant to to illustrate the economic power women hold by asking them to stay away from work and avoid spending money, with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses. Organizers also urged women to wear red in solidarity. The group that organized the Women's March on Washington January 21 called for women in the U.S. to take the time off.
The strike call marked the first major action taken since then, when millions of people took to the streets in Washington and cities across the United States for a protest, the day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated.
“A Day Without a Woman” was part of hundreds of events planned across the U.S. for Wednesday. But some women said actually taking the day off was far too impractical.
Kathleen McGovern Dinsmore of Wilmington, Delaware, said, “I think the whole thing about a ‘Day Without Women’ is a little over the top. However, I was a big fan of the January 21 women's march. That march had a definitive purpose. I just can't get into the special day set aside to recognize women.”
When asked what she did to celebrate the day, Reid Carpenter of New York City said, “I wore a red dress! And ... volunteered at my son's school, went to work, served on a jury, picked up my child, made dinner and then worked some more. But that's just another day in the life of a woman, right?”
In Washington, more than a thousand protesters marched to the White House while they shouted slogans condemning a decades-old policy recently reinstated by Trump that bans U.S. foreign aid money from being used to provide or promote abortions — a policy known colloquially as the “global gag rule.” While the majority of the marchers were women, a sizable proportion were men.
One of the marchers, Alec Dubro, estimated the male contingent at about 30 percent. When asked if he thought Wednesday's action made a difference, he was upbeat, although he questioned the meaning of the phrase “made a difference.”
“If it resulted in immediate Republican capitulation, then no difference. If (it meant) reinforcing the spirit of women — particularly young women —then definitely yes," he said.
Outside the Capitol building, Democrat House members led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi held a rally attended by more than 100 demonstrators. Pelosi said if she “ruled the world,” she would see to it that “all girls around the world are educated.”
Several other female House members spoke against various Trump administration policies.
“Immigrant rights are women's rights,” said Rep. Nanette Barragan.
In New York City, organizers of the Women's March held another rally before embarking on a march that passed by several important landmarks in the women's rights movement. Along the march route, some protesters began blocking traffic “as a form of civil disobedience,” resulting in their arrests, the organizers said on Twitter.
Trump took to Twitter Wednesday to voice support for the U.N.-recognized International Women's Day celebration. He did not address the strike or protesters.
Several public school districts in the U.S. were forced to close Wednesday after teachers said they would skip school to participate in the strike.
In North Carolina, Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district officials said the number of teacher and staff absences “was significant” and there would not be “enough staff to safely run our school district.”
Alexandria, Virginia school officials said their decision to close schools wasn't “based on a political stance,” but instead “based solely on our ability to provide sufficient staff to cover all our classrooms.”
Karin Agness, founder of the conservative Network of Enlightened Women, said she thinks the strike is more of a media strategy than about actually advancing women. “Striking is not the way to advance women in the workplace or in society,” Agness said. “If they are really concerned about women in the workplace, they could have come up with some more concrete actions that really would have made a difference.”
International events Wednesday included an all-female kick boxing tournament in Toronto, Canada, a 10K fun run in Brisbane, Australia, that saw 10,000 women run through the city's streets, and a literature festival in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, centered on gender equality.
The International Women's Day website says the event has been observed since the early 1900's, and since then, it has become “a collective day of global celebration and a call for gender parity.”
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres made remarks to commemorate International Women's Day in Nairobi, Kenya, saying the organization holds “a strong commitment to gender parity at all levels” and he supported that commitment by appointing women to high-ranking positions at the U.N.
“What we want is competent women and competent men to have the same rights and the same opportunities to be able to play the same kind of roles in our societies,” he said.
Twenty-two female world leaders are currently in power, more than at any other time in history.
Women currently make up about 44 percent of total employees at S&P 500 companies and hold 29 CEO positions at those companies, another record high, according to numbers compiled by Catalyst, a nonprofit group that promotes gender diversity. The 29 female CEOs represent just 5.8 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.
Advances need to be made in politics as well, said Rachel Thomas, national press secretary for Emily's List, an influential pro-choice group.
Just 104 women, accounting for about 20 percent of the total, hold seats in the U.S. Congress in 2017: 21 women in the Senate, and 83 women in the House of Representatives.
“We make up over half the country, but right now we are less than 20 percent of Congress; that is not enough,” Thomas said. “… when you don't have a diverse governing body, you leave out entire swaths of the population through the policies that you enact.”
Some data also show women have made major gains in compensation, but their salaries still lag behind their male counterparts.
“The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won't close entirely until 2186. This is too long to wait,” the IWD website says. “So around the world, International Women's Day provides an important opportunity for ground breaking action that can truly drive greater change for women.”
Numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show full-time female employees in 2015 made, on average, 81 percent of what their comparable male colleagues earned. In 1979, women earned about 62 percent of what comparable male colleagues made.
The BLS website adds the comparisons are broad and show “many factors that can be significant in explaining earnings differences, such as job skills and responsibilities, work experience, and specialization.”
Aru Pande, Katherine Gypson, Esha Sarai and Marissa Melton contributed to this report.