On the 8th of March every year people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). But why do we have a day set aside to celebrate women and their contribution to society?
The answer to that question is pretty complex, as the international 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 until 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 a International Women’s Conference was held in Denmark. At the conference German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed the idea of an “International Woman’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, main 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.
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 agitated 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. In fact, the gender pay gap has hit a two decade high of 18.8%. Violence against women is still pervasive in our society with 1 in 3 women experiencing physical violence from a partner or ex-partner since the age of 15. In recent years there have been fresh attacks on the reproductive rights of women by conservative politicians.
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.
Georgie lives in Melbourne with a dog called Murphy and a cat called Worms. She is passionate about social justice issues and feminism, and is one of the co-creators of Rosie. She loves music, travelling and getting crafty.