INTERNATIONAL WOMAN’S DAY

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8march

 

INTERNATIONAL WOMAN’S DAY

 

What is International Woman’s Day?   Is it the same as Mother’s Day?  Is there a difference?  How and/or why is it important?

International Women’s day is a day globally celebrating women’s past, present and future. This day is a celebration of respect, appreciation and love to women, and a reminder of their economic, social, and political struggles, achievements and successes.  For those who have never heard of International Woman’s Day or know a little bit about it, I hope this helps you to understand it much better.

The first International Women’s Day dates back to 1911 and has its roots in the Suffragette movement. This movement marks the struggle of women for their right to vote and their right to be treated as equal to men.    In some countries, such as China, Russia, Bulgaria and Vietnam, International Women’s Day is celebrated as a national holiday.

International Women’s Day (IWD), originally called International Working Women’s Day, is marked 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 Eastern Europe, Russia, and the former Soviet Bloc.  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 ribbons.   The earliest Women’s Day observances were held on many different dates: May 3rd, 1908, in Chicago; February 28th, 1909, in New York; and February 27th, 1910, in New York.

International Women’s Day originated in 1908.  In New York, women garment makers demanded better working conditions in the workplace.  The women worked in very deplorable conditions and also earned half of men’s wages. They died too early from deprived health. They did not have the right to vote.

In 1910, an international conference of women determined that each year a day should be set aside to press for women’s demands. International Women’s Day stands for equality between women and men.  It was at this time in England, women were demanding the right to vote. They stood by their slogan “Give Women the Vote” to struggle for women to obtain social equalities. So International Women’s Day is remembered the battles for a long fought to build a society that is fair to all its members in a society in which diversity, tolerance, safety, social justice and social equality between women and men. And Women celebrated what they have done and are can do.

In August 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen. Inspired in part by the American socialists, several socialists from Germany proposed the establishment of an annual ‘International Woman’s Day’ and was seconded by a fellow socialist, 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 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.   In 1913 Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February.   

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, then 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 1917 demonstrations marking International Women’s Day in Saint Petersburg on the last Sunday in February initiated the February Revolution.  Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day for “Bread and Peace” – demanding the end of World War I and an end to Russian food shortages.   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.”     On May 8th, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium, 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 1st, 1949 the state council proclaimed on December 23rd that March 8th 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 8th as the UN Day for woman’s rights and world peace.

On the occasion of 2010 International Women’s Day the International Committee of the Red Cross drew 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.

Events took place in more than 100 countries 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.   In the run-up to 2011 International Women’s Day, the ICRC called on States and other entities not to relent in their efforts to prevent rape and other forms of sexual violence that harm the lives and dignity of countless women in conflict zones around the world every year.

 In Pakistan, Punjab Govt. Project Gender Reform Action Plan, District Gujranwala celebrated this day in large scale in the Gift University Gujranwala. Mrs. Shazia Ashfaq Mattu, MPA and GRAP officer Mr. Dr. Yasir Nawaz Manj organized the events in very effective manners.  Australia issued a 100th anniversary commutative coin. 

In Egypt however, the day was a step back for women. In Egypt’s Tahrir Square, hundreds of men came out not in support for women but to harass the women who came out to stand up for their rights as the police and military stood by watching the events unfold in front of them. “The women – some in headscarves and flowing robes, others in jeans – had marched to Cairo’s central Tahrir Square to celebrate International Women’s Day. But crowds of men soon outnumbered them and chased them out,” wrote Hadeel Al-Shalchi for AP

The UN theme for International Women’s Day 2012 was Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty. In that year,  Oxfam America invited people to celebrate inspiring women in their lives by sending a free International Women’s Day e-Card or honoring a woman whose efforts had made a difference in the fight against hunger and poverty with Oxfam’s International Women’s Day award.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2012, the ICRC called for more action to help the mothers and wives of people who have gone missing during armed conflict. The vast majority of people who go missing in connection with conflict are men. As well as the anguish of not knowing what has happened to the missing person, many of these women face economic and practical difficulties. The ICRC underlined the duty of parties to a conflict to search for the missing and provide information for the families.

The UN theme for International Women’s Day 2013 was “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women,” while International Women’s Day 2013 declared the year’s theme as The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum.    In 2013, on International Women’s Day, the International Committee of the Red Cross drew attention to the plight of women in prison.

2017 will be the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, which was sparked on March 8, 1917 by women protesting against bread shortages in St. Petersburg. These events culminated in the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II on March 15. Worldwide celebrations and re-enactments are scheduled to begin on March 8, 2017. Among the organizers is the Ukrainian women’s direct action group FEMEN, which aims “to shake women in Ukraine, making them socially active; to organize in 2017 a women’s revolution.”

In some countries, such as Cameroon, Croatia, Romania,  Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria and Chile, 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 – friends, 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, 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.  Teresa Mattei chose the mimosa as the symbol of IWD in Italy because she felt that the French symbols of the day, violets and lily-of-the-valley, were too scarce and expensive to be used effectively in Italy. Yellow mimosas and chocolate are also one of the most common March 8 presents in Russia and Albania.

In many countries, such as in Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine the custom of giving women flowers still prevails [within these regions only]. Women also sometimes get gifts from their employers. Schoolchildren often bring gifts for their female teachers, too.

In countries like Portugal, groups of women usually celebrate on the night of March 8 in “women-only” dinners and parties.   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 designated as International Women’s Year, the United Nations gave official sanction to, and began sponsoring, International Women’s Day.

Since 2005, IWD has been celebrated in Montevideo, either on the principal street, July 18th or alternatively through one of its neighborhoods. 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.

70% of those living in poverty are women and Oxfam GB encourages women to Get Together on International Women’s Day and fundraisers to support Oxfam projects, which change the lives of women around the world. Thousands of people hold events for Oxfam on International Women’s Day join the celebration by visiting the website and registering their events.

In Taiwan, International Women’s Day is marked by the annual release of a government survey on women’s waist sizes, accompanied by warnings that weight gain can pose a hazard to women’s health.

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.

Kathy Kiefer

 

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