International Women’s Day: What’s it all about?

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Every year on the 8th of March people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) – but what exactly is it?

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It also provides the chance to unite globally and push for gender equality. The theme for IWD 2018 is #PressforProgress, a nod to the growing global movement of advocacy and activism.

So what’s the history behind March 8th?

The answer to that question is pretty complex, as the day means different things in different countries. In some countries, like Russia, it’s a national holiday and women are given flowers and chocolates by men, but IWD has always been tied to women’s fight for equal rights from the early 1900’s to today.

The first Women’s Day was held in New York  in 1908 on February 28. It was the anniversary of a protest by garment factory workers, who went on strike to protest the poor conditions in the factories. Most of the workers were women and so the Socialist Party of America held the first ever Women’s Day to commemorate the strike.

In 1910 an International Women’s Conference was held in Denmark. At the conference German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed the idea of an “International Women’s Day” to promote equal rights for women, including the right to vote. On the 19th of March the following year over a million people, mainly in Europe, celebrated and protested for equal rights for women on the first International Women’s Day. It wasn’t until 1914 that IWD was celebrated on the 8th of March, most likely because it was a Sunday, and it has been held on this date ever since.

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This Russian IWD poster from 1932 says “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!” This rebellion against traditional gender roles was later mirrored by feminists in Australia in the 60’s and 70’s who were campaigning for women’s workplace rights. Would you believe that until 1966 married women were not allowed to work in the public service? Until the 1970’s IWD was mainly celebrated in communist and socialist countries, because of its base in the workers movement. With growing radicalism in countries like Australia and America it soon became a day of protest for the Women’s Liberation Movement.

The Women’s Liberation Movement in Australia pressed for social change including equal pay, reproductive rights and an end to sexual violence. They chained themselves to buildings and marched through the streets to protest against the sexism that prevented them from standing equally with their male counterparts.

So why is IWD still relevant today?

Although it’s become a day to celebrate all the amazing achievements of women in our society, it’s also a great opportunity to think about the issues faced by women in Australia and globally. A lot of the things feminists were protesting about in the 70’s are still problems in our society today. The gender pay gap is still widespread in Australia, with men still earning more than women by an average of $26,527 per year in every industry and occupation. Violence against women is still pervasive in our society with 1 in 6 women experiencing physical violence from a partner or ex-partner since the age of 15. Abortion is still against the law in NSW and Queensland. Women are still not represented equally in business or politics. And the rise of the #MeToo movement has shown just how rampant sexual assault and harassment are in the workplace.

These are just a few of the barriers on the path to gender equality in Australia and IWD is the perfect chance to think about what we can do to break them down. So whatever you’re doing this IWD, take some time to reflect on what women have gained in the past century, and how far we still have to go in the next.

This article was originally written by Rosie co-creator Georgie Proud in 2015. It has been updated and re-published by Maddy Crehan for this year’s International Women’s Day.

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