International Women’s Day – Why do we celebrate it?
International Women’s Day (IWD) 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 for their economic, political and social achievements. International Women’s Day is generally a great kick start for feminists to try gain equality for women. Education, working life, sexual and physical assault, the discrimination seen towards women today is still too much.
The earliest Women’s Day observance was held on February 28, 1909, in New York. It was organised by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union. There was no specific strike happening on March 8, despite later claims.
In August 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organised 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 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 they 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.
In 1913 Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Saturday in February.
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 March 8, 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 Thursday 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.
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.
In modern culture
The day is an official holiday in Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Macedonia (for women only), Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zambia.
In 1975, which was designated as International Women’s Year, the United Nations gave official sanction to and began sponsoring, International Women’s Day.
The 2005 Conference of the British Trades Union Congress overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for IWD to be designated a public holiday in the United Kingdom.
The internationalwomensday.com digital hub allows registration for IWD events. The IWD website adopts an annual theme that is globally relevant for groups and organisations and has the further objective that women and the media can learn about local activity.
How we celebrate
- Portugal + Italy – Groups of women celebrate the night with ‘women’s only’ dinners and parties.
- Eastern Europe + South America – Giving flowers prevails, women may also get gifts from employers and schoolchildren if they are teachers.
- Poland – large feminist displays and demonstrations in major cities to help the fight for women’s rights.
- Pakistan – despite many cultural and religious restrictions, working women celebrate IWD every year to commemorate their ongoing struggle for due rights.
- Scotland – The Scottish Women’s Convention (SWC) celebrates on the Saturday closest to March 8th. Women throughout Scotland meet for a celebratory event in the Scottish Parliament organised by the SWC.
- Uruguay – Female drummers perform on the streets every year, attracting a lot of publicity.
- Bulgaria + Romania – It is observed as an equivalent of Mother’s Day, where children also give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.
- Many African countries – It is not a public holiday but is widely celebrated nonetheless. It is customary for men to give flowers and small gifts to the women in their lives (friends, mothers, wives, colleagues, etc).
- Italy – Men give yellow mimosas to women.
- Russia + Albania – Yellow mimosas and chocolate are the most common presents given on March 8th.
- Taiwan – Annual release of a government survey on women’s waist sizes, to help health and prevent weight gain.