The Importance of International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is next week, but do you know its origins? Similarly to Gay Pride, this day is steeped in history, revolt, and upheaval. Want to celebrate it with us? Find out more.

First organised by the Socialist Party of America in 1909, International Women’s Day has always been championed by socialist and communist groups. In fact, it wasn’t until 1975 that the day was formally adopted by the UN. The day is one to mark the challenges faced by women, and champion gender equality and human rights. Growing up, it has felt like a celebration, and while it is one, it’s also important to recognise the day is marker. An indication of how far we’ve come, and how much further we need to go.

For 2018, the UN theme is “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives” with International Women’s Day are calling for #PressforProgress. And it couldn’t be more apt. From #MeToo to #TimesUp, from Pussy Power to the Repeal Movement, Nasty Women, and every other trending topic it does feel like once again the time is now. But it is important that the time is now for everyone, not just those with access to resources.

Despite first being held in February, in 1910 at the International Women’s Conference, German socialist Luise Zietz suggested that an annual celebration be held in March. This suggestion was agreed upon, and the 100 delegates from 17 countries declared the day was to promote women’s rights. The next year over 1 million people celebrated the day in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. And the concept continued to growing over the following years. But it wasn’t until 1914 that the March 8th date was finalised.

Throughout history, the day has always been marked by protests and agitation. In 1914 in Germany the day was dedicated to women’s fight for suffrage. In 1917 Russian female textile workers demonstrated. Taking over the whole of Petrograd, this marked the beginning of the Russian Revolution. Their demands were simple – ‘Bread and Peace’ – calling for the end of World War 1, end to food rationing, and the end of czarism. Less than a week later Nicholas II abdicated and women were granted the right to vote.

With such deep roots, it’s no wonder that the day has also been used to champion women’s rights at a global level too. In 1995 the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was signed by 189 governments. In 2014 the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women was convened. Today the day is a holiday in many countries around the world including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Cuba, Angola, and Zambia. But it is often marred by violence too. In 2007 activists in Tehran were beaten by police for planning a rally. A stark reminder that freedom and advantages don’t always impact us all equally. And this is imbalance is part of the driving force behind the 2018 campaign. 

When stats and figures, and even social media campaigns, are being shared it’s important to remember that a lot of those numbers often only apply to a select demographic. We know now that the gender pay gap won’t be closed for more than 80 years, but impacts some sectors far more than others.  You might remember “Equal Pay Day” being talked about a lot last year. From the media you might be fooled into thinking that for US women that day falls in April. But actually that’s just for some. For black women it’s not until July 31st. In Ireland and the UK, the 10th November is “Equal Pay Day” for women.

This year was heralded as the 100 Years of Vote – again that’s only a reference to some women. A number of restrictions were put in place to ensure that only those from a certain class had the right to vote. This is the same in the US, where it wasn’t until 1920 that suffrage was extended. But due to many exclusionary laws and practices, African-Americans couldn’t vote until the 1960’s. And in Saudi Arabia, women have only been able to vote since 2015. There are still many countries where women need permission to apply for passportsget a divorce, or domestic violence is deemed OK. Beyond that if not tackled there will be 1.2 billion women married as children by 2050.  130 million girls aged 6-17 are not in school, and 15 million girls of primary school age will never step foot in school. These are all issues that need addressing. They need to be championed just as much as the issues impacting us at home.

If we truly want to #PressforProgress then we need to acknowledge that change has impacted different sections of society in different ways. And that we have an obligation to help those who are living in marginalised communities. It could be people of colour, trans women, those in the traveler community, women from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those living under oppressive laws. When you see stats and figures being lauded, ask who do they apply to. It’s likely that such progress is not universal, and many have not felt the benefits being extolled in the headlines. The colours for IWD symbolise justice, dignity, hope, equality, and progressive feminism. For 2018, let’s focus on the progressive part.

If you’d like to get involved with some IWD events come celebrate with GirlCrew.

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