International Women's Day

International Women's Day (IWD), to mark the economic, political and social accomplishments of women. It has been observed since the early 1900's but its origins and history extend back to the birth of the women's right movement in Europe and the US.

Up until the 20th century women in western cultures had very few rights and suffered gross injustices under legal systems where married women had no property rights; husbands had complete power over their wives and could imprison or beat them with impunity; and inheritance, divorce and child custody laws favored men. Many prominent "intellectuals" believed that education for girls and young women was unnecessary and should be limited to only that which was necessary to run a proper home. Even in the supposedly democratic societies founded on "liberty and justice for all,"there were no laws that established and protected the rights of women. In fact, American women - including those from upper class families who had supposedly been "free women" all along - gained the right to vote 50 years after former male slaves did and more than 140 years after the Declaration of Independence.

The month of March, particularly the 8th, has a recurring significance in the History of the Women's Rights - specially the labor and socialist movements in which working women provided much of the impetus, staging labor protests to demand better pay and working conditions. On March 8, 1857, a group of women workers in New York City staged a protest asking for improved working conditions and better pay. This led to the formation of the first women's labor union in March 1859.

Half a century later women had still not received the same basic rights that men enjoyed. And so, on March 8th 1908, exactly 100 years ago, once again a crowd "this time 15 ,000 women strong" fed up with social inequalities and spurred on by the emerging ideologies of that era, marched the streets of New York City demanding better hours, increased wages and the right to vote. It was one year later, at the behest of the Socialist Party of America, that the first official observance of a - Women's Day" took place in the United States on February 28th 1909.

The following year, at the 1910 Second International Conference of Socialist women in Copenhagen, an International Women's Day of unspecified date was proposed to laud and support the women's rights movement and work towards the goal of universal suffrage for women. Over 100 women from 17 countries unanimously agreed to the proposal. As a result, International Women's Day was marked for the first time on March 19, 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. More than 1 million people attended rallies where women demanded the rights to vote, hold public office, work, and to receive vocational training and an end to discriminatory practices in the work place.

In the following years, on the Eve of World War I, observances of IWD throughout Europe took on the form peace rallies, with women gathering to protest the war. And, in 1917, after the loss of some 2 million Russian soldiers, Russian women gathered on the last Sunday in February ( February 23 according to the Julian Calendar and March 8 according to the Gregorian) to again protest for peace "despite opposition from the government. This historical strike proved to be the initial stage of the Russian Revolution" 4 days later the Czar was overthrown and women were granted the right to vote. Soon thereafter the day was made an official holiday in Russia.

International Women's Day continued to grow from its roots in the socialist movement to become a global day of recognition and celebration throughout the world, and in 1975 the United Nations designated March 8th to be 'International Women's Day "Today government and women's organizations around the world observe IWD annually by holding events that honor the accomplishments and advancements of women and call for continued action to ensure that such progress continues. Women from all continents, who have often been divided by national boundaries and ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, gather on this "their momentous day "to look back to a tradition that represents at least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development. International Women's Day serves as a reminder of all that women have achieved in the past two centuries and of what they still need to accomplish.

Why is International Women's Day Celebrated?

Women constitute more or less 50% of the population in the world, but in some countries their social status in relation to that of men is miserable. In other countries some progress has been achieved, but nowhere can it be said that they have same status as men. In many regions of the world, practices like dowry, female infanticide, and discrimination against women is common. But women around the world continue to strive to obtain equal social and economic rights and opportunities.

On 8th March every year, women around the world celebrate their struggle, reflect on the progress made, call for change, and celebrate extraordinary acts of courage and determination by the sometimes ordinary women who have played a role in establishing women's rights.