On the occasion of International Women’s
Day I convey my heartfelt wishes to all the WOMEN around the globe. We
should remind ourselves that the empowerment of women and their
equality, liberty and dignity are not a distant goal or fond aspiration
of the women of our country. It is one of their sacred rights. It is not
a privilege that they should seek. It has been a key element in the
codes of conduct that our ancient societies prescribed for themselves
more than 3000 years ago.
International Women’s Day has been
observed since in the early 1900’s, a time of great expansion and
turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population
growth and the rise of radical ideologies. All around the world,
International Women’s Day represents an opportunity to celebrate the
achievements of women while calling for greater equality.
International Women’s Day (IWD), also
called International Working Women’s Day, is celebrated on March 8 every
year. In different regions the focus of the celebrations ranges from
general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women to a
celebration for women’s economic, political, and social achievements.
Started as a Socialist political event, the holiday blended in the
culture of many countries, primarily in Europe, including Russia. In
some regions, the day lost its political flavor, and became simply an
occasion for men to express their love for women in a way somewhat
similar to a mixture of Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. In other
regions, however, the political and human rights theme designated by the
United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the
struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful
manner. This is a day which some people celebrate by wearing purple
The earliest Women’s Day observance was
held on February 28, 1909, in New York; it was organized by the
Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the
International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. There was no specific
strike happening on March 8, despite later claims.
In August 1910, an International Women’s
Conference was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist
Second International in Copenhagen, Denmark. Inspired in part by the
American socialists, German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed the
establishment of an annual ‘International Woman’s Day’ (singular) and
was seconded by fellow socialist and later communist leader Clara
Zetkin, although no date was specified at that conference. Delegates
(100 women from 17 countries) agreed with the idea as a strategy to
promote equal rights, including suffrage, for women. The following year,
on March 19, 1911, IWD was marked for the first time, by over a million
people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. In the
Austro-Hungarian Empire alone, there were 300 demonstrations. In Vienna,
women paraded on the Ringstrasse and carried banners honouring the
martyrs of the Paris Commune. Women demanded that women be given the
right to vote and to hold public office. They also protested against
employment sex discrimination. Americans continued to celebrate National
Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February.
Female members of the Australian Builders Labourers Federation march on International Women’s Day 1975 in Sydney
In 1913 Russian women observed their
first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February (by
Julian calendar then used in Russia).
Although there were some women-led
strikes, marches, and other protests in the years leading up to 1914,
none of them happened on March 8. In 1914 International Women’s Day was
held on March 8, possibly because that day was a Sunday, and now it is
always held on March 8 in all countries. The 1914 observance of the Day
in Germany was dedicated to women’s right to vote, which German women
did not win until 1918.
In London there was a march from Bow to
Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage on 8 March 1914. Sylvia
Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to
speak in Trafalgar Square.
In 1917 demonstrations marking
International Women’s Day in Saint Petersburg on the last Sunday in
February (which fell on March 8 on the Gregorian calendar) initiated the
February Revolution. Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day
for “Bread and Peace” – demanding the end of World War I, an end to
Russian food shortages, and the end of czarism. Leon Trotsky wrote, “23
February (8th March) was International Woman’s Day and meetings and
actions were foreseen. But we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’
would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but
without date. But in morning, despite the orders to the contrary,
textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates
to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike… all went out
into the streets.”
Following the October Revolution, the
Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai and Vladimir Lenin made it an official
holiday in the Soviet Union, and it was established, but was a working
day until 1965. On May 8th, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium of
the Supreme Soviet International Women’s Day was declared a non-working
day in the USSR “in commemoration of the outstanding merits of Soviet
women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Fatherland
during the Great Patriotic War, in their heroism and selflessness at the
front and in the rear, and also marking the great contribution of women
to strengthening friendship between peoples, and the struggle for
peace. But still, women’s day must be celebrated as are other holidays.”
From its official adoption in Russia
following the Soviet Revolution in 1917 the holiday was predominantly
celebrated in communist and socialist countries. It was celebrated by
the communists in China from 1922, and by Spanish communists from 1936.
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949
the state council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made
an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.
In the West, International Women’s Day
was first observed as a popular event after 1977 when the United Nations
General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN
Day for women’s rights and world peace.
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