Monday, March 10, 2008

Significance & Origin of International Women’s Day

Women are half the world's people
who do two-thirds of the world's work.
They earn one tenth of the world's income
and own one hundredth of the world's property.
Source: United Nations.

Year on year as a woman I have recognized International Women’s Day, sent fun forwards to my women friends wishing them & telling them how great they are, gotten together with women to do a drink, celebrate being a woman, look at the progress a women has made in society and the list goes on. One thing I seemed always to miss amongst all this was the significance & origin of this day that I celebrated with fellow women.

International Women’s day is the story of how ordinary women who made history by struggling to ensure than women had the right to participate equally in society – politically & socially. The concept of having a day dedicated to women was born in 1909 when the Socialist Party of America declared the First Women’s day to be celebrated on 28th February. In 1910 at a Socialist International Meeting in Copenhagen it was further established that a single day was required to honour the movements for women’s rights & to assist in achieving universal suffrage for women. The proposal was greeted unanimously by 100 women – 3 of whom were the first women to be elected into Finnish government. However No date was set. In 1911 as the result of this conference women’s day was set for the 19th of March. Tragically on the 25th of march of the same year the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York where over 140 women mostly immigrants and girls as young as 15 years were killed when a fire broke our in their factory. This event had significant impact on labour legislation, working conditions etc all led up to further establishing the observation of International Women’s Day.

In 1913 – 1914 Russian women observed their first International women’s day on the last Sunday of February - as part of the peace movement around the brewing first world war. In 1914 Two million Russian soldiers had died in the war and the women once again took to striking for “bread & peace” on the last Sunday of February. Even though the political leaders tried to oppose this – the strike by these women went on. The rest is history as the Czar was then forced to abdicate the throne & the provisional government formed gave women the right to vote. That historic Sunday fell on 23rd of February on the Julian Calendar then used in Russia but on 8th March according to the Gregorian Calendar used by the rest of the world.*

So many years later, how is having a day for women still necessary? While evolved societies or pockets of people have now progressed to using this day as a celebration of womanhood. This day is celebrated differently by each and every person. Husbands and children use it as a day to say thank you to their wives & mothers respectively for what they have done & continue doing for them. Companies acknowledge the contribution & the variety of qualities women employees bring in to the work space – by organizing seminars on successful women, work life balance or simply just to have some fun.

Countries all over the world celebrate women’s day differently. In Italy to celebrate the day, men give yellow mimosas to women, in many of the eastern European and south American countries march 8 is observed as a national holiday and mothers, wives, grandmothers, teachers are gifted flowers. In Portugal on the night of March 8 groups of women celebrate with “only- women” dinners & parties. In Armenia a whole month is observed for women called women’s month from March 8th to April 7th.

Closer home India – being a rapidly developing country we use women’s day in two ways to Firstly to celebrate how much women have progressed in the country from when you look back 50 - 60 years ago, the strides they have made in politics, entrepreneurship, bollywood, sports, medicine, science & most importantly a woman who can today stand on her own two feet, support & take care of her family. Secondly we can’t forget that being India on women’s day we are also still fighting against the very same issues that existed 60 years ago of poverty, discrimination, unequal access to education & training, political inequality, child marriage, sati, killing of the girl child & peace.

All in all the role a woman plays in society irrespective of country, race, language, social status is one that no other can play. The positive side is the world has started to take cognizance of this fact; unfortunately it’s not yet enough.

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