Today is International Women’s Day. Rooted in the international push for women’s suffrage and in the labor/socialist movements, the first celebration was held in 1911 on March 19, a date selected to commemorate the 1848 uprisings when the King of Prussia was compelled to acknowledge the power of the people.
The occasion and date were suggested by Clara Zetkin of the German Social Democratic Party at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen in 1910. Delegates from 17 countries representing trade unions, socialist parties, and working women’s clubs unanimously approved the call. News of the event, spread by the socialist press and word of mouth helped make the first observance successful in much of Europe with packed meetings, parades, and at least one tense standoff with police.
|Socialist and working class women were at the heart of early celebrations of International Women's Day.|
In 1913, International Women’s Day was moved to its present date of March 8. Despite the eruption of the First World War, which damaged many international relationships, Women’s Day grew year by year.
In the wake of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, American unions, the Socialist Party, and later the Communist Party spread the celebration through the next two decades, but because of its radical association, the Suffrage movement and middle class women’s organizations shunned it.
|Union members and female labor organiations were also key components while middle class suffrage movements were more cautiously involved.|
It faded in this country until it was taken up by new generation of feminists in ‘60’s, largely shorn of its original working class basis.
In 1975 the United Nations officially began promoting and sponsoring International Women’s Day. Each year the U.N. designates a theme for the celebration, although individual countries and groups are allowed, even encouraged, to develop their own themes based on their own experiences and challenges.
The theme for 2018 #PressFor Progress. The International Women’s Day web site describes the theme this way:
With the World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away—there has never been a more important time to keep motivated and #PressforProgress. And with global activism for women’s equality fuelled by movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp and more—there is a strong global momentum striving for gender parity.
And while we know that gender parity won’t happen overnight, the good news is that across the world women are making positive gains day by day. Plus, there’s indeed a very strong and growing global movement of advocacy, activism and support.
So we can’t be complacent. Now, more than ever, there's a strong call-to-action to press forward and progress gender parity. A strong call to #PressforProgress. A strong call to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.
International Women;s Day is not country, group or organisation specific. The day belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. So together, let's all be tenacious in accelerating gender parity. Collectively, let’s all Press for Progress.
|African women display the palms forward push gesture that is the semi-official salute of #PressFor Progress|
Today, it is observed as a national holiday in many nations, although disguised as a version of Mothers’ Day in some conservative societies. Among the hold outs in designating an official status are many Islamic nations like Iran where attempts to mark the Day with public demonstrations in 2005 were met by police attacks and the jailing of many leading women militants.
And, of course, in the United States a deep fear and resentment by conservatives of any International celebration, particularly one with Socialist roots and promoted by the United Nations, prevents any official participation, even when it was—or especially because it was—smiled upon and acknowledged by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Do not hold your breath for an official White House proclamation. At best there may be an incoherent but hostile 3 am toilet Tweet.
Luckily, that will not prevent activities around the country as the women’s movement broadens and embraces the radical roots of international feminism.