History of International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day and we ardently celebrate it. But have you ever paused to think why we are doing this? Did you ever think that maybe there was a reason behind this and if there is, then what is it? I think I can safely say that you didn’t.

Did you know that International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900’s? Here’s a brief history of Women’s Day.

1908 march

1908
Great unrest and critical debate was occurring amongst women. Women’s oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Then in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

1909
In accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman’s Day (NWD) was observed across the United States on 28 February. Women continued to celebrate NWD on the last Sunday of February until 1913.

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In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named a Clara Zelkin (Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women’s Day was the result.

1911
Following the decision agreed at Copenhagen in 1911, International Women’s Day (IWD) was honoured the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However less than a week later on 25 March, the tragic ‘Triangle Fire’ in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women’s Day events.

1913-1914
On the eve of World War I campaigning for peace, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February 1913. In 1913 following discussions, International Women’s Day was transferred to 8 March and this day has remained the global date for International Women’s Day ever since. In 1914 further women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express women’s solidarity.

1917
On the last Sunday of February, Russian women began a strike for “bread and peace” in response to the death over 2 million Russian soldiers in war. Opposed by political leaders the women continued to strike until four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. The date the women’s strike commenced was Sunday 23 February on the Julian calendar then in use in Russia. This day on the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere was 8 March.

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1918 – 1999
Since its birth in the socialist movement, International Women’s Day has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike. For decades, IWD has grown from strength to strength annually. For many years the United Nations has held an annual IWD conference to coordinate international efforts for women’s rights and participation in social, political and economic processes. 1975 was designated as ‘International Women’s Year‘ by the United Nations.

2000 and beyond
IWD is now an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.

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The new millennium has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women’s and society’s thoughts about women’s equality and emancipation. With more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women’s visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one could think that women have gained true equality. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.

However, great improvements have been made. We do have female astronauts and prime ministers, school girls are welcomed into university, women can work and have a family, women have real choices. And so the tone and nature of IWD has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives.

So make a difference, think globally and act locally! Make everyday International Women’s Day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.

Working Class Heroines

Anna

Do we want the door opened for us, or would we rather do it ourselves?

India today is an enigma of many kinds, but on the front of gender sensitization and equality, there is a gaping chasm that separates what a woman can and cannot do. While urban India has awakened and slowly warmed up to the education and employment of girls and women, there seem to be no social advancements to creating a physical, intellectual and emotional environment that supports this. Safety and security of women after dark still looms large and there’s no telling when this dark cloud will disperse.

Urban Indian women today have stepped out of their worn out shoes of being another’s wife, daughter and mother and are boldly striding to workplaces, university classes and their independent homes and defining new, dual roles for themselves. This positive sign is a reflection of a metropolitan societal revolution supporting the advancement of women, but a lot more still remains to be done for India on the whole.

Whether it’s reservation in parliament, compulsory education for the girl child, incentivizing the birth of a girl child or sensitization of society at large, the ‘problem’ of women empowerment and equal opportunities across India still exists. Even more dismal than the policies supporting the rural development of women is the representation of women of character today. Objectified to a fault, women today for the most part are visualized as creatures of desire, rather than beings of substance.

In a focus group interview conducted by AIESEC India, with young girls aged 20-23 across the metropolitan cities, it was startling to note that all of their role models emanated from within their families- grandmother, mother and sister. While this is a positive sign that today’s families have created the right space for their daughters, it is disheartening that no singular female role model comes to the fore of a young woman’s mind.

It may be ungrounded to say that the future of India is inextricably linked to the education, development and employment of women. However, Rahel Chakola, 23, an associate in the field of interactive education in Bangalore believes that the equation is simple: Educated Women = Educated India = Developed India.

AIESEC is an organization that does not discriminate on any grounds, gender included. It is in this organization that I first understood the ability of leadership to transcend gender, race, colour and religion. Ironically, it is here that I have only had girls leading me and heading teams that I was a part of. This is the fabled land of equal opportunity where I witnessed girls succeed and supersede their peers, because of the safe, encouraging and comfortable environment it provided for their personal and leadership development.

AIESEC India Women's Day