HARRISONBURG — International Women’s Day was celebrated on Friday, but over 200 people gathered on the steps of the Rockingham County Courthouse on Saturday to hear speakers discuss the impact and importance of women locally and internationally.
The event started with a march followed by speeches in the morning and ended with a banquet held at Asbury United Methodist Church in the evening.
The banquet was originally established five years ago by members of the Congolese community, and the march was added three years ago as the event continued to grow.
First, the crowd slowly swelled outside of City Hall as snow fell Saturday. At 10 a.m., the crowd filled with flags and families marched to Court Square, with some participants chanting and others singing.
Mayor Deanna Reed, Harrisonburg’s first African-American woman mayor, greeted the crowd over a microphone as it reached the courthouse.
The mayor discussed inequities in women’s representation in politics, such as the lack of women on City Council. She is the only woman on the five-member panel.
The rally included speakers of different ages, including three from Harrisonburg High School.
Call and responses were offered by the speakers and met by the crowd, including a chorus of “It’s not good enough,” in response to statistics about women’s pay and representation.
Cynthia Prieto, the principal of Harrisonburg High School, said female students inspire her to work with the committee that organized the event.
“We’re here to celebrate who they are and what they can become,” she said.
The committee plans the march and banquet over the course of a year, said Nancy Munoz, one the planning committee members who has lived in Harrisonburg for 10 years.
T-shirts were available for purchase this year, said Munoz. The design featured the Venus symbol, which denotes the female gender, made up of the names of the 54 different languages spoken in Harrisonburg City Public Schools on a purple background.
Munoz said she expects the event to continue to grow.
Francie Osando, the event chair, who is a member of the Congolese community and has lived in Harrisonburg since 2000, also expects the event to draw more participants every year.
“We want to grow bigger and bigger,” Osando said.