March 8 is known globally as International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women around the world. March 8 is a date on which society stops to become aware, every year, of the role that its citizens play, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, language, or their political, economic, and cultural situation. The objective of this date is to highlight a part of society that, throughout history, has conquered a large number of rights that had been denied, a fight for equality that, in many areas, is still maintained.
Many countries around the world celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. This date was established by the UN in 1975. However, its history goes back many years and is the result of a collective effort.
The origin of International Women’s Day
The activities of the groups of workers in the framework of the Industrial Revolution in the United States and Europe are the germ of International Women’s Day, according to the UN. Since then, this date has been acquiring a global dimension both for women living in developed countries and for those citizens of developing countries.
The development of an international women’s movement, which was reinforced by four global conferences organised by the UN, has helped turn this commemoration into a point of demand for women’s rights, as well as their participation in the political and economic arenas.
It was in 1909 when the first National Women’s Day was celebrated. It was in the United States on February 28. The Socialist Party of America designated that day as a tribute to a women’s strike that had taken place a year earlier in New York. Women workers in the textile industry had stopped to protest their working conditions. Some 15,000 of them walked the streets of the city to demand better hours and salaries, and also their right to vote.
In 1910, Clara Zetkin proposed that this commemoration become international. It did so during the meeting of the Socialist International in Copenhagen (Denmark), when it was decided that International Women’s Day would serve to honour the movement for women’s rights each year, as well as to gain international support with the aim of establishing a universal suffrage that would include this group.
As a result of the Copenhagen initiative, International Women’s Day was established for the first time on March 19 in four pioneer countries. They were Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. There, more than a million women and men demonstrated to request universal suffrage and claim the right of women to work, to access vocational education and not suffer discrimination in the workplace.
Women against war
International Women’s Day also served as an instrument to protest against the First World War. In Russia, women celebrated their first International Women’s Day as part of the peace movement on the last Sunday of February 1913, according to the country’s Julian calendar.
Also in 1917, Russian women protested and went on strike under the slogan “Bread and Peace” on the last Sunday of February, which coincided with March 8 of the Gregorian calendar. They did so in response to the deaths of more than two million Russian soldiers in the Great War and to food shortages. Four days later, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, and the Provisional Government recognised women’s right to vote.
From then on, the UN promoted an annual conference to coordinate international efforts in favour of women’s rights, as well as their participation in economic, political and social processes.
In 1975, what is now recognised as International Women’s Year was celebrated. Then, the UN officially celebrated International Women’s Day for the first time on March 8, a commemoration that would continue to be celebrated every year since then.
Beyond March 8
The celebration and vindication of the role of women in society is more than just an annual event. The United Nations Charter itself, signed in 1945, was the first international agreement to reaffirm the principle of equality between women and men. Since then, the UN and its technical agencies have promoted the participation of women as actors equal to men when it comes to achieving sustainable development, peace, security and respect for human rights.
The organisation views the empowerment of women as an essential factor in its efforts to address social, economic and political challenges around the world.
However, this objective has not yet been completed. According to calculations by the World Economic Forum, the gender gap will not be closed until the year 2126, while labour parity will not be achieved for another 200 years.
The last global report of this organisation on the gender gap indicates that its end, far from getting closer, is getting further and further away. This is because the presence of women in the labour market and politics, far from increasing, has lost strength. Issues such as women’s access to healthcare and education have also suffered setbacks in 2018.
The demand for real equality between men and women will continue this year and many years to come. Turning it into a daily act that achieves real results is a task that requires the participation of all citizens.