After many decades of celebrating International Women’s Day, and fully understanding its purpose and ethos, I decided it well past time to actually look closely at its origins.
International Women’s Day (IWD), held on March 8th across the world, is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women in the past, present and future. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.
Although much progress has been made to protect and promote women’s rights, in recent times, nowhere in the world can women claim to have all the same rights and opportunities as men. According to the United Nations (UN) the majority of the world’s 1.3 billion absolute poor are women and, on average, women receive between 30 and 40 percent less pay than men earn for the same work. Women also continue to be victims of violence, with rape and domestic violence listed as significant causes of disability and death among women worldwide.
In 1910, Clara Zetkin, the leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. The proposal received unanimous assent from over one hundred women representing seventeen countries. Meetings and protests were held across Europe with the largest street demonstration attracting 30,000 women. The day sparked great public debate, and advocates drew attention to the absolute necessity of extending the right to vote to women to make parliament more democratic.
The very first International Women’s day was held the following year on March 19th. The March 19 date was chosen because it commemorated the day that the Prussian king promised to introduce votes for women in 1848. The promise gave hope for equality but it was a promise that he failed to keep. The inaugural event, which included rallies and organized meetings, was a big success in countries such as Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. In 1913, IWD was transferred to March 8th and has been held on this day ever since.
The UN drew global attention to women’s concerns in 1975 by calling for an International Women’s Year and held its first official celebrations in Mexico City. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace inviting Member States to proclaim a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace – International Women’s Day – to be observed on any day of the year in accordance with their historical and national traditions.
Since then, the United Nations Organisation has observed March 8th as International Women’s Day The UN considers the purpose of this day is to recognise the fact that securing peace and social progress, and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, require the active participation, equality and development of women and to acknowledge the contribution of women in achieving these goals.
Since those early years, International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nation’s women’s conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas. Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.
For the women of the world, the symbolism of International Women’s Day has a wider meaning. It is an occasion to review how far women have come in their struggle for equality, peace and development. It is also an opportunity to unite, network and mobilise for meaningful change.
For newspaper articles which discuss the continuing challenges facing women, in 2013, please click on the following links:
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Since 1999 International Men’s Year is celebrated on 19 November each year.
Copyright © 2013. Catherine Ann Crout-Habel