International Women’s Day
March 8, A Unique Date All Over the World
March is Women’s History Month. Nevertheless, international Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 every year by women’s groups around the world. It is also celebrated at the United Nation (UN), and in many countries, it is a national holiday. When women from all continents, often divided by national borders and by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate their Day, they can see, if they look back, that it is a tradition representing at least 90 years of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.
Women who made history
International Women’s Day is the story of ordinary women who made history. It has its roots in the struggle led by women for centuries to participate in society on an equal footing with men. In Greek antiquity, Lysistrata launched a « sex strike » against men to end war. During the French Revolution, Parisian women demanding « liberty, equality, fraternity » marched on Versailles to demand women’s suffrage.
The idea of an International Women’s Day emerged at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, a period characterized in the industrialized world by expansion and effervescence, explosive population growth and the emergence of radical ideologies.
1909 – In accordance with a declaration by the American Socialist Party, the first National Women’s Day was observed throughout the United States on February 28. Women continued to celebrate this day on the last Sunday of February until 1913.
1910 – The Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen established an international Women’s Day to honor the movement for women’s rights and to help achieve universal suffrage for women. The proposal was unanimously approved by the conference which included more than 100 women from 17 countries, including the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament. No specific date has been set for this celebration.
1911 – Following the decision taken in Copenhagen the previous year, International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time, on March 19, in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and hold public office, they demanded the right to work, to vocational training, and an end to discrimination in the workplace.
Less than a week later, on March 25, the tragic fire at the Triangle workshop in New York claimed the lives of more than 140 workers, mostly Italian and Jewish immigrants. This event had a strong influence on labor law in the United States, and the working conditions that led to this disaster were discussed during subsequent celebrations of International Women’s Day.
1913-1914 – As part of the pacifist movement fermenting on the eve of World War I, Russian women celebrated their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday of February 1913. In other European countries, the 8 March or a day or two from that date, women held rallies either to protest against the war or to express their solidarity with their sisters.
1917 – With two million Russian soldiers killed in the war, Russian women again chose the last Sunday in February to strike for ‘bread and peace’. The political leaders protested against the date chosen for this strike, but the women ignored it. The rest is in the history books: four days later the Tsar was forced to abdicate, and the Provisional Government granted women the right to vote. This historic Sunday fell on February 23 in the Julian calendar then in use in Russia, but March 8 in the Georgian calendar used elsewhere.
Since these years, International Women’s Day has taken on a new global dimension in both developed and developing countries. The burgeoning women’s movement, which had been bolstered by four United Nations-sponsored world conferences on women, helped make the observance of the Day the rallying point for coordinated efforts to demand the realization women’s rights and their participation in the political and economic process. Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress, call for change, and celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of human rights.