It wasn’t just another day at Paradigm Talent Agency. Many of its employees did not come to work.
“The chairman of our company sent out a mass email to the entire company, not just the women, saying he was encouraging all of us to do this. And then this morning, I got several individual emails from male colleagues saying that they were proud of me for participating in this,” said literary agent Valarie Phillips.
Many of her Los Angeles colleagues and thousands of others across the United States are participating in “A Day Without a Woman.” As part of International Women’s Day, it was a day to skip work, wear red and rally to support women’s issues and women’s rights.

People participate in the 'Day Without a Woman' ra
People participate in the 'Day Without a Woman' rally in front of Los Angeles City Hall, March 8, 2017. (E. Lee/VOA)

The female employees at Paradigm Talent Agency started their morning at a colleague’s home in Los Angeles to put together personal hygiene bags for homeless women who are moving to permanent housing.
“So we have 101 women in the Los Angeles office, so we decided to put together 101 hygiene bags today. And I think that’s actually a nice symbol, because I think as 101 it represents us as a group united, and the 1 represents us as individuals. We need to show up for things like today and we need to show up to be a part of the sisterhood,” said Phillips, who later attended a rally in front of L.A. City Hall with her colleagues.
Coast-to-coast rallies
Thousands of women and some men participated in rallies and marches in cities across the U.S. 
“We’re putting an important message out there that women matter. We’re more than half the population. We can make a difference in this world. I think we stand more for things we believe in: the love, the beauty, the hope, the uplifted side of humanity. We want to share that with others,” said retired nurse Mona Dimick, who attended the rally in Los Angeles with her sister.
In more rural areas of the U.S., such as Mount Carroll, Illinois, the mood was very different and few people knew about the event. 
Ruide Jusufi, originally from Albania, owns a café in Mount Carroll. She said observing International Women’s Day is more prevalent in Europe than the U.S.

“Being a woman, [you] work. Do work. That’s it. This is the woman’s day. You have to work. You have to take care of your husband, your kids, [and] your grandkids,” Jusufi said.

Demonstrators at the International Women's Day ral
Demonstrators at the International Women's Day rally stage a sit-down protest outside Trump International Hotel at Columbus Circle, March 8, 2017, in New York.

Men march, too
Men also participated in the rallies. For Carlos Heredia, fighting for women’s rights is personal.

“Growing up, seeing my mom abused by my father, then seeing my three sisters abused by their men and the consistency of hearing what goes on, of what they call ‘gym talk’ or ‘corporate talk.’ I think me, being a male, I need to do my job to protect our women,” Heredia said.

Women’s rights mean different things to different people. Some participants are advocating for gender equality and equal pay, others for abortion rights.
Karin Agness, founder of the conservative women’s group Network of Enlightened Women, agrees on the need for gender equality. But she says Wednesday’s rallies exclude conservative women like herself and sends the wrong message.
“Women have made great gains, and it’s frustrating for me as a young woman that the women’s movement today really sees women as victims still, and as a victim class in need of the government to fix their problems,” she 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. I think this is more a media opportunity and less about advancing women,” Agness added.
In Washington, D.C., several thousand people marched and rallied outside the White House. For many women, this event was also a political protest against President Donald Trump.

“What this president unfortunately is trying to do -- he and his ridiculous Cabinet -- is bring this country backwards. … We thought we had fought and made progress many, many years ago. Unfortunately I think we got complacent, and we stopped fighting, and we have to keep fighting,” Gabriella Belli said.

Many participants of “A Day Without A Woman” said they are the lucky ones.

“I know a lot of people can’t actually be here because they’ve got jobs they have to be at. So when you’re at a position where you can and you’ve got people saying ‘go,’ it’s important for us to be here and represent for those who can’t, and it’s incredibly important,” said Nicolle Alfaro who attended the Los Angeles rally with her friend.

Surrounded by a sea of red, these women said they feel empowered to continue the fight for women’s rights of all kinds within their own communities.