International Women’s Day

Journey from its Inception to the United Nations

The seeds of International Women’s Day may have been sewn in the awakening of the need for equal rights for women far back in history. According to some scholars, particularly, Elaine Baruch, Plato was the first to advocate equality between the sexes. French writer Christine de Pizan ( 1364 – 1430), the author of the book ” The City of the Ladies” is considered to be the first woman to write about the unequal relationship between man and woman.

There were a number of other early feminist writers in France, Germany, Italy, England and Mexico. The most noted 17th century feminist writers were Margaret Cavendish of England and Ines de la Cruz  in Mexico.

The18th century was the Age of Enlightenment, characterized by secular, intellectual reasoning. Many enlightened writers defended the rights of women also. The notable were, Jeremy Benham ( 1781), Marquis de Condorset  (1790) and Mary Wallstonecraft (1792).

19the century feminists reacted against the cultural inequalities in the Victorian image of women which defined the  proper “Role and Sphere” of women. Several books appeared typifying ” Victorian” conduct of women. A well-known book was ” Angel in the House”(1854) by Sarah Ellis. Queen Victoria herself reacted against the concept of feminism calling it “Mad, wicked folly of women”. Later, Florence Nightingale proclaimed that women had all the potential of men but none of the opportunities.”

In 1949, a French feminist Simone de Beauvoir wrote her monumental book, “the second Sex” defending women’s rights. It was translated into English in 1953. Then it was widely read in other parts of the world  and made a real impact by giving impetus to the feminist movement everywhere especially in Europe.

Thus amongst support and controversies, the feminist movement kept gaining popularity. By the twentieth century, women in most countries in the world did receive equality in most areas of life. With equalities came equal opportunities and women had remarkable achievements in various areas of life. But the celebration of women’s equal rights and achievements on a certain day came much later in Europe. It reached the United States of America much earlier.

In 1909, the first “Women’s Day”, previously known as “Working Women’s Day” ,was observed for the “Gender Equality “on February 28 . The Socialist Party of America designated this day to honor the 1908 garment workers strike in New York where women protested against deplorable working conditions.

In 1910,  the “Socialist- International” meeting in Copenhagen established  ” Women’s  Day”, international in character, to honor the Movement  in women’s rights and to build support to achieve universal suffrage for them. The proposal was submitted by the German socialist Luize Zeitz and seconded by a fellow socialist Clara Zeitkin but no date was specified at that time. A delegation of 100 women from 17 countries,  agreed with the proposal as a strategy to promote equal rights and suffrage for women.

In 1911, as a result of the Copenhagen initiative, International Women’s Day was marked, for the first time, March 19 by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. There were demonstrations on the streets to demand women’s right to vote, to hold public offices and end discrimination in all areas of life.

Americans continued to celebrate Women’s Day on the last Sunday of February every year.

In 1913, Russian women observed their first Women’s Day on the last Saturday in February by Russian Julian Calendar.

In 1914,the Russians changed it to March 8, possibly because it was a Sunday, which was a holiday for everybody. Since then, it I has always been March 8, whatever the day of the week it might be. After the official adoption of this day in Russia, the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist and socialist countries .

In 1922, on March 8, China also celebrated its first Women’s Day.  After  the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October. 1,1949, the State Council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made  an official holiday with women given half the day off.

In Europe, the first International Women’s Day on March 8 was first observed in 1977.It was two years after the General Assembly of the United Nations, in its resolution 3010 ( XXVII), proclaimed the year 1975 as International Women’s year and dedicated it to peruse the following objectives:

a) To promote equality between men and  women;

b) To ensure full integration of women in the total development effort, especially emphasizing women’s responsibility and important role in economic, social and cultural development at the national, regional, and international levels particularly during the Second United Nations Development Decade. 

c) To recognize the Importance of women’s increasing contributions to the development of friendly relations and co-operation among States and to the strengthening of the world peace.

On March 8, 1983, International Women’s Day was commemorated for the first time at the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva and since then all member States call this day, it “International Women’s Day” and celebrate it on March 8. 

Sehba Ali

Writer  is an Applied Linguist and a freelance-writer.

(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 2 Issue 24, March 2016)

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