Pauline Carmona
Carmona comforts a woman in front of SF City Hall, after the Paris attacks on November 2015

For over 100 years, International Women’s Day (IWD) events have celebrated the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. This year, Alliance Française of San Francisco (AFSF) is taking the lead in the Bay Area by hosting a luncheon honouring women (and men) who are making a difference in contributing to gender equality.

Pauline Carmona, Consul General of France in San Francisco, will be honoured with the Spirit of Equality Award at the IWD luncheon hosted by Alliance Française San Francisco on Tuesday, March 8. The date was designated by the United Nations in 1977, although the original celebration took place in 1909.

Pauline Carmona
Pauline Carmona

This is the first time AFSF has sponsored a luncheon and awards for IWD. This year’s theme is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up for Gender Equality,” embracing the United Nations commitment to achieve gender equality by 2030. The awards luncheon will honour women who have given a lifetime to achieving equality for women, helping girls and teens realize their potential and mentoring young women.

“When I received the email, I thought it was just a lunch invitation,” said Carmona. “Then I realized I was being given this award, and I was surprised, very honored and humbled. It means a lot to me.”

Pauline Carmona
Carmona in Sacramento, 9/11/15, during the parade honoring the three Sacramento men who subdued a gunman on a train in France

But according to Pascal Ledermann, Executive Director of AFSF, Carmona deserves this award. She is the first woman Consul General of France in the United States, and her assignment is San Francisco.

“She is also personally engaging, friendly and excels in bringing people together in this multicultural city,” said Ledermann.  “Who better to win than Pauline?”

Prior to her position as Consul General in San Francisco, Carmona worked in France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the Woman and Diplomacy committee. There, she worked to bring parity and equality for women in France.

Pauline Carmona
In Hawaii, Carmona presented the legion of honor WWII American veterans who saved France from the Nazis

“The main issue was to mentor and help young women dare enough to ask for the higher up job,” said Carmona. “With mentoring by more senior women, younger women learned they were not alone, they had or could learn the skills for the job, how to network with others and to have confidence in themself to dare to ask for the job with higher up responsibilities.”

Carmona continued, “Being the first female Consul General of France in the U.S. may seem like a symbol, but it is an opportunity that is dear to my heart. Encouraging women to dare enough is reflected in my work and professional activities.”

AFSF has embraced equality with this year’s luncheon, according to Ledermann. “One of our goals is to make AFSF more a part of the San Francisco community,” he said. “We want to exchange, learn and share with others, and we’re excited to have this luncheon be a part of that. It is also a part of our March celebration of diversity of French speaking countries, including Francophone Day, which is March 20.”

Pauline Carmona
Carmona at SF City Hall memorial for January Charlie Hebdo attacks

IWD has been observed since the early 1900s, starting in Europe and growing in importance to its current worldwide celebration. In 1910, at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, over 100 women from 17 countries formed and celebrated the first IWD.  By the eve of WWI, Russian women had joined the group and the global date of March 8 was designated as the official day. It was celebrated by the UN for the first time, and observed by all member states, in 1975.

The new millennium saw a decline in support for IWD as feminism became unpopular. IWD celebrations and work for the advancement of women stalled. A reboot was needed, and in 2011, President Obama proclaimed March to be Women’s History Month. The then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched an initiative to empower women and girls through international exchange programs in March. Companies, celebrities and business leaders got on board to help support the efforts for woman’s parity with men and IWD as a rallying cry and support of the cause.

“San Francisco has strong awareness of cultural and gender differences, and is committed to equal pay and livable wages,” said Ledermann.  “It was the first city to sign the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW.) We at AFSF, and the winners of these awards, are aware of the work to be done, and the sky’s the limit.”

Other 2016 honorees at the AFSF International Women’s Day luncheon will be:

Mark Leno, California State Senator, Man of the Year Award

Lateefah Simon, Rosenberg Foundation, The Norma Hotaling Community Advocate of the Year Award

Andrea Dew Steele, Emerge America, Unsung Heroine Award

Helynna Brooke, SF Mental Health Education Funds, The Sue Bierman Extraordinary Public Service Award

Sharon Miller, Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, Annie Powell Community Leadership Award

Elizabeth Kirton, Executive Director, Asian Women’s Shelter, Organization of the Year

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Martha Sessums is the France Today Ambassador for San Francisco. Intrigued by France since her first stroll along the Seine, Martha and her husband often travel to Paris to explore the city and beyond. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, delighting in its strong Francophone and French culture community. She was a high-tech public relations executive and currently runs a non-profit continuing education organization.

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