100th International Women’s day

This year on March 8th 2010 we are observing the 100th International Women’s day. India will celebrate it with the tabling of a bill in Rajya Sabha providing Women’s reservation in National and State legislatures.

It will be apt now to look back at the history of  International Women’s day.[IWD].

History of International Women’s day

International Women’s day was born at a time of great social turbulence and crisis. . In the years before 1910, from the turn of the 20th century, women in industrially developing countries were entering paid work in some numbers. Their jobs were sex segregated, mainly in textiles, manufacturing and domestic services where conditions were wretched and wages were low.. Trade unions were developing and industrial disputes broke out, including among sections of non-unionised women workers. In Europe, the flames of revolution were being kindled.
Major demands of early Women’s movement were increase in wages,better working conditions and the right to vote in National and provincial elections.
 1908, on the last Sunday in February, socialist women in the United States initiated the first Women’s Day when large demonstrations took place calling for the vote and the political and economic rights of women. The following year, 2,000 people attended a Women’s Day rally in Manhattan.

In  1909 women garment workersin USA  staged a general strike. 30,000 workers struck for 13 cold, winter weeks for better pay and working conditions. The Women’s Trade Union League provided bail money for arrested strikers and large sums for strike funds.

1910: In the Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin a leading German socialist proposed  a Women’s Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women’s rights and to build support for achieving universal suffrage for women. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance.That conference also reasserted the importance of women’s right to vote, dissociated itself from voting systems based on property rights and called for universal suffrage – the right to vote for all adult women and men Conference also called for maternity benefits which, despite an intervention by Alexandra Kollontai on behalf of unmarried mothers, were to be for married women only. It also decided to oppose night work as being detrimental to the health of most working women.

1911: As a result of the Copenhagen initiative, International Women’s Day was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded women’s rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.
Russian revolutionary and feminist, Alexandra Kollontai, in Germany at the time, helped to organise the day, and wrote that it:

exceeded all expectations. Germany and Austria …. was one seething trembling sea of women. Meetings were organised everywhere…..in the small towns and even in the villages, halls were packed so full that they had to ask (male) workers to give up their places for the women.

Men stayed home with their children for a change and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings.

1913-1914: International Women’s Day also became a mechanism for protesting World War I. As part of the peace movement, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February. Elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8 March of the following year, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with other activists.

1917: Against the backdrop of the war, women in Russia again chose to protest and strike for ‘Bread and Peace’ on the last Sunday in February (which fell on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar). Four days later, the Czar abdicated and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.

The Charter of the United Nations, signed in 1945, was the first international agreement to affirm the principle of equality between women and men. Since then, the UN has helped create a historic legacy of internationally-agreed strategies, standards, programmes and goals to advance the status of women worldwide.
On the 50th anniversary of IWD in 1960, 729 delegates from 73 countries met in a conference in Copenhagen. It adopted a general declaration of support for the political, economic and social rights of women.
During International Women’s Year in 1975, IWD was given official recognition by the United Nations and was taken up by many governments.. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions. For the United Nations, International Women’s Day has been observed on 8 March since 1975.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day – which is observed worldwide on 8 March – is “Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All”.
The  challenges to gender equality and women’s empowerment that require urgent attention as per the U.N. include:

• Little progress has been made on reducing maternal mortality rates. Every year, 536,000 women
and girls die as a result of complications during pregnancy, childbirth or following delivery,
the overwhelming majority in developing countries. Most of these complications are largely
preventable and treatable.

• Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic, with up to 70 per cent of women
experiencing violence in their lifetime. The problem remains universal, with women and girls
affected by violence in every region and every country.

• Access to labour markets and to decent work remains limited for women. In 2008, an estimated
52.6 per cent of women were in the labour force, compared with 77.5 per cent of men. Women
are more likely than men to have low-paid, low-status and vulnerable jobs, with limited or no
social protection or basic rights. A very high proportion of women in the labour force continues
to work in the informal economy.

• Serious challenges persist to women’s full and equal participation in senior decision-making
positions. These include negative stereotypes about women’s leadership roles and potential,
a lack of commitment by political parties and men leaders, inadequate funding and training
for women candidates and government officials, and discriminatory selection processes in all
sectors and at all levels.

• Women continue to be excluded from or seriously under-represented in peace negotiations,
peacebuilding and disarmament processes. Since 1992, women represented, on average, just
7.1 per cent of official delegation members, and only 2.1 per cent of signatories to peace
agreements. To date, very few women have been formal mediators.

 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 has helped make the commemoration a rallying point for coordinated efforts to demand women’s rights and participation in the political and economic process. Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, and a call for change and to remember acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of women’s rights.Women’s advancement not only brings integrity and happiness to women but also better life and joy to all and the International Women’s Day not only belongs to women but also to all people of the world.

Let me end this post with a quote from Lena Lewis, U S. socialist, who declared 100 years ago

 that it was not a time for celebrating anything, but rather a day for anticipating all the struggles to come when” we may eventually and forever stamp out the last vestige of male egotism and his desire to dominate over women”.

pic from pakteahouse.wordpress.com
Joyce Stevens article


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