Friday, February 13, 2015

International Women's Day | Looking Back

‘To those who can’t see the point of International Women’s Day: you are the very reason it exists. International Women’s Day is commemorated because gender inequality still persists. The day this ceases to be a reality is the day we can erase it from our calendars.’ – Katie Grant, The Independent.

International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th every year and has been since it was first observed in 1909. In the lead up to IWD this year, we are going to explore its history and the traditions that differ all around the world, as well as the argument that we still need this day marked in our calender. 

 International Women’s Day 

The earliest Women’s Day observance was held on February 28th 1909 in New York, organised by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. In August 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organised and German socialist Luise Zietz proposed the establishment of an annual International Woman’s Day, although no date was set at the conference.

The following year, on March 19th 1911, IWD was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

In 1914 International Women’s Day was held on March 8th, possibly because that day was a Sunday, and now it is always held on March 8th 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 8th March 1914. On this day Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charring Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square.

Demonstrations happened repeatedly on IWD during these years. In 1917 in Saint Petersburg women went on strike for ‘Bread and Peace’, demanding an end to World War I, and Russian food shortages
Leon Trotsky, Marxist theorist and revolutionary wrote; 

‘The 8th March was International Women’s Day and meeting 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 the morning, despite 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.’

From this adoption in Russia, the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist and socialist counties. It was celebrated by the communists in China from 1922, and by Spanish communists from 1936. 

In the West, International Women’s Day was first observed as a popular event after 1977 when the UN invited members of state to proclaim March 8th as the UN day for Women’s Rights and World Peace.

The history of IWD is long, and it's incredible to think how far this celebration has come since it's inception. We are proud supporters of IWD, as The Women's Organisation, and all of the different events and celebrations that are co-ordinated every year.

Check out what we are doing for IWD on our website!

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