International Women's Day is the story of ordinary women as makers of history; it is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women for solidarity and to participate in society on an equal footing with men.
In ancient Greece, Lysistrata initiated a sexual strike against men in order to end war; during the French Revolution, Parisian women calling for "liberty, equality, fraternity" marched on Versailles to demand women's suffrage.
The idea of an International Women's Day first arose at the turn of the century, which in the industrialized world was a period of expansion and turbulence, when the impoverished started to associate to fight for their rights and promotion. Women were sensitive to life; they opposed wars, hunger, exploitation and child slavery. Their statements called for international solidarity.
PhD in history Dr. Mª del Mar Araus says: “The woman has gone down in the history of workers’ movement as the mother of solidarity; without their resilience, endurance and struggle, there would have been no workers’ movement.”
Following is a brief chronology of the most important events:
On 8 March 1857, women working in clothing and textile factories (called 'garment workers') in New York City, in the United States, staged a protest. They were fighting against inhumane working conditions and low wages. The police attacked the protestors and dispersed them. Two years later, again in March, these women formed their first labour union to try and protect themselves and gain some basic rights in the workplace.
On 8 March 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter work hours, better pay, voting rights and an end to child exploitation. They adopted the slogan "Bread and Roses", with bread symbolizing economic security and roses a better quality of life. In May, the Socialist Party of America designated the last Sunday in February for the observance of National Women's Day.
In 1909, in accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman's Day was observed across the United States on 28 February. Women continued to celebrate it on the last Sunday of that month through 1913.
In 1910, The Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, established a Women's Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women's rights and to assist in achieving universal suffrage for women. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance.
In 1911, as a result of the decision taken at Copenhagen the previous year, International Women's Day was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded the right to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.
Less than a week later, on 25 March, the tragic Triangle Fire in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working girls, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This event had a significant impact on labour legislation in the United States, and the working conditions leading up to the disaster were invoked during subsequent observances of International Women's Day.
In 1913, as part of the peace movement brewing on the eve of World War I, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February 1913.
In 1914, a year later, elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8 March, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with their sisters.
In 1917, with 2 million Russian soldiers dead in the war, Russian women again chose the last Sunday in February to strike for "bread and peace". Political leaders opposed the timing of the strike, but the women went on anyway. The rest is history: four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. That historic Sunday fell on 23 February on the Julian calendar then in use in Russia, but on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere.
Since those early years, International Women's Day has assumed a new global dimension. In December 1977 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace.
Despite the advances in women's rights, women and girls in impoverished countries (who represent the great majority of the world's population) suffer disproportionally from the burden of hunger, war, exploitation, violence... The only effective solution to this suffering and injustice is to put an end to these evils by attacking their causes, not only its consequences. Only a true commitment to uncovering and transforming the political, social and economic relationships at the heart of poverty can actually bring equality to all women and men alike.