International Women’s Day (IWD), originally called International Working Women’s Day is marked on March 8 every year. It is a major day of global celebration of women. 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 Eastern Europe, Russia, and the former Soviet bloc. In many regions, the day lost its political flavour, 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 St Valentine’s Day. In other regions, however, the original 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.
Female members of the Australian Builders Labourers Federation march on International Women’s Day 1975 in Sydney.
The mimosa (technically, the Silver Wattle) is the symbol of the celebrations of Women’s day in Italy and Russia
The first IWD was observed on 19 March 1911 in Germany following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. The idea of having an international women’s day was first put forward at the turn of the 20th century amid rapid world industrialization and economic expansion that led to protests over working conditions.
In 1910, Second International held the first international women’s conference in Copenhagen (in the labour-movement building located at Jagtvej 69, which until 1 March 2007 housed Ungdomshuset). An ‘International Women’s Day’ was established. It was suggested by the important German Socialist Clara Zetkin, although no date was specified. The following year, 1911, IWD was marked by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, on March 19. 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 International Peace.
Demonstrations marking International Women’s Day in Russia proved to be the first stage of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai persuaded Lenin to make it an official holiday in the Soviet Union, and it was established, but was a working day until 1965. On May 8, 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.”
2011 International Women’s Day
Events are scheduled to take place in more than 100 countries around the world on March 8, 2011, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. In the United States, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 2011 to be “Women’s History Month”, calling Americans to mark IWD by reflecting on “the extraordinary accomplishments of women” in shaping the country’s history. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the “100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges”, on the eve of IWD.
2010 International Women’s Day
On the occasion of 2010 International Women’s Day the International Committee of the Red Cross is drawing attention to the hardship displaced women endure. The displacement of populations is one of the gravest consequences of today’s armed conflicts. It affects women in a host of ways.
Women displaced by armed conflict – often living alone with their children – are frequently exposed to sexual violence, discrimination and intimidation. Many face poverty and social exclusion as well. International humanitarian law therefore includes specific provisions protecting women, for example when they are pregnant or as mothers of young children.
In modern culture
The 1932 Soviet poster dedicated to the 8th of March holiday. The text reads: “8th of March is the day of rebellion of the working women against kitchen slavery” and “Down with the oppression and narrow-mindedness of household work!”. Originally in the USSR the holiday had a clear political character, emphasizing the role of the Soviet state in the liberation of women from their second-class-citizen status.
However, with time the meaning of the holiday evolved to an apolitical celebration of women. Most late Soviet 8th of March postcards carried no political meaning.
The day is an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus,Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, 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.
In some countries, such as Cameroon, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, the day is not a public holiday, but is widely observed nonetheless. On this day it is customary for men to give the women in their lives – mothers, wives, girlfriends, daughters, colleagues, etc. – flowers and small gifts. In some countries (such as Bulgaria and Romania) it is also observed as an equivalent of Mother’s Day, where children also give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.
In Armenia, after the collapse of the Soviet Union celebrations of IWD were abandoned. Instead, April 7 was introduced as state holiday of ‘Beauty and Motherhood’. The new holiday immediately became popular among Armenians, as it commemorates one of the main holidays of the Armenian Church, the Annunciation. However, people still kept celebrating IWD on March 8 as well. Public discussion held on the topic of two ‘Women’s Days’ in Armenia resulted in the recognition of the so called ‘Women’s Month’ which is the period between March 8 and April 7.
In Italy, to celebrate the day, men give yellow mimosas to women.Yellow mimosas and chocolate are also one of the most common March 8 presents in Russia and Albania.
In many countries, such as In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia, the custom of giving women flowers still prevails. Women also sometimes get gifts from their employers. Schoolchildren often bring gifts for their teachers, too.
In countries like Portugal groups of women usually celebrate on the night of 8 March in “women-only” dinners and parties.
In India, IWD holds a lot of significance. Many celebrations are held during the day.
In Pakistan working women in formal and informal sectors celebrate International Women’s Day every year to commemorate their ongoing struggle for due rights, despite facing many cultural and religious restrictions. Some women working for change in society use IWM to help the movement for women’s rights. In Poland, for instance, every IWD includes large feminist demonstrations in major cities.
In 1975, which was been designated as International Women’s Year, the United Nations gave official sanction to, and began sponsoring, International Women’s Day.
The 2005 Congress (conference) of the British Trades Union Congress overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for IWD to be designated a public holiday in the United Kingdom.
Since 2005, IWD has been celebrated in Montevideo, either on the principal street, 18 de Julio, or alternatively through one of its neighbourhoods. The event has attracted much publicity due to a group of female drummers, La Melaza, who have performed each year.
Today, many events are held by women’s groups around the world. The UK-based marketing company Aurora hosts a free worldwide register of IWD local events so that women and the media can learn about local activity. Many governments and organizations around the world support IWD.
In some cases International Women’s Day has led to questionable practices that discriminated against men. For example Tower Hamlets Council closed off one of its libraries to all males to “celebrate” the occasion, forcing them to travel elsewhere, going as far as even banning male staff from the premises.
In the Czech Republic (then part of Czechoslovak Socialist Republic), huge Soviet style celebrations were held annually. After the fall of Communism, the holiday, generally considered to be one of the major symbols of the old regime, fell into obscurity. International Women’s Day was re-established as an official “important day” by the Parliament only recently, on the proposal of the Social-democrats and Communists. This has provoked some controversy as a large part of the public as well as the political right see the holiday as a relic of the nation’s Communist past. In 2008, the conservative Catholic People’s Party’s deputies unsuccessfully proposed the abolition of the holiday. However, some non-government organizations consider the official recognition of International Women’s Day as an important reminder of women’s role in the society. Still, unlike in the past, the holiday is no longer observed by the general public in any significant way.
International Women’s Day sparked violence in Tehran, Iran on March 4, 2007, when police beat hundreds of men and women who were planning a rally. Police arrested dozens of women and some were released after several days of solitary confinement and interrogation. Shadi Sadr Mahbubeh Abbasgholizadeh and several more community activists were released on March 19, 2007, ending a fifteen day hunger strike.
A popular apocryphal story which surfaced in French Communist circles claimed that women from clothing and textile factories had staged a protest on 8 March 1857 in New York City. The story alleged that garment workers were protesting against very poor working conditions and low wages and were attacked and dispersed by police. It was claimed that this event led to a rally in commemoration of its 50th anniversary in 1907. Temma Kaplan explains that “neither event seems to have taken place, but many Europeans think March 8, 1907 inaugurated International Women’s Day.” Speculating about the origins of this 1857 legend, Liliane Kandel and Françoise Picq suggested it was likely that (in recent times) some felt it opportune to detach International Women’s Day from its basis in Soviet history and ascribe to it a more “international” origin which could be painted as more ancient than Bolshevism and more spontaneous than a decision of Congress or the initiative of those women affiliated to the Party.