Monday, March 8, 2021

The Labor and Socialist Roots of International Women’s Day Run Deep

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.

Just before World War I German Socialists celebrated International Women's Day in 1914.

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, Socialist, Communists and female labor organizations led early American observances while middle class suffrage movements shied away.

It faded in this country until it was taken up by a 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 2021 is #ChooseToChallenge.  The International Women’s Day web site describes the theme this way:

A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions—all day, every day.

We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.

From challenge comes change, so let's all choose to challenge.

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 have been met by police attacks and the jailing of many leading women militants. 

Second wave American feminists resurrected interest in International Women's Day in the late '60's and celebrated when became a United Nations sponsored event in 1975.

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. 

This year President Joe Biden is set to mark International Women’s Day by signing two executive orders creating a Gender Policy Council and reviewing Trump-era changes to Title IX, the Federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in education

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