For those of you who didn’t know, March is Women’s History. Month March 8 is International Women’s Day. Originally called International Working Women’s Day, it began as a Socialist political event. In different regions the focus ranges from a general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women to a celebration for women’s economic, political and social achievements. In many regions, the day lost its political context, and simply became another occasion for men to express their love for women similar to Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. In other regions, however, the original political and human rights theme designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.
Now, any true feminist knows that empowering women does not mean the teardown of men. So this holiday has caused some controversy in the past, when it led to questionable practices that discriminated against men. For example, Tower Hamlets Council closed off one of its libraries to all males to “celebrate” the occasion, forcing them to travel elsewhere, going as far as even banning male staff from the premises.
International Women’s Day sparked violence in Tehran, Iran on March 4, 2007, when police beat hundreds of men and women who were planning a rally. Police arrested dozens of women and some were released after several days of solitary confinement and interrogation.Shadi Sadr Mahbubeh Abbasgholizadeh and several more community activists were released on March 19, 2007, ending a fifteen day hunger strike.
The history of this day has its roots in New York City. In 1908, demanding shorter work hours, better pay, and voting rights, 15,000 women marched through the city. In accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman’s Day was observed across the United States on February28. Women continued to celebrate National Woman’s Day on the last Sunday of February until 1913. In 1910, a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, Clara Setkin, brought forth this grand idea: That every year, in every country, on the same day, there should be a celebration for women, to speak their minds. There were over 100 women from 17 countries at this conference, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, and they gave unaminous approval to the measure: International Women’s Day was born. In 1913, the day of celebration was moved to March 8 and has remained there ever since.
For decades, the day and the movement has grown in strength. For many years the United Nations has held an annual conference to coordinate international efforts for women’s rights and participation in social, political and economic processes. The new millennium has witnessed a significant change and shift in attitude in both women’s and society’s thoughts about women’s equality and emancipation.
With more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women’s visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one could think that women have gained true equality. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.
Don’t get me wrong, there are great improvements. We do have female astronauts and prime ministers, school girls are welcomed into university, women can work and have a family, women have real choices (although, the past month and a half has shown that some people do want them taken away). The tone and nature of this day has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives.
The UN theme for International Women’s Day 2012 is Empower Women – End Hunger and Poverty.
To celebrate this day, and all this month, let’s all remained focused on all the positives, and let our voices be heard!
Have a wonderful International Women’s Day, everyone!