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March 8 - International Day of Women's Solidarity
Russian Center in Buenos Aires
International Women's Day. Photo credit: Vestnik YURPA
International Women's Day is one of the most popular holidays among men and one of the most loved days among women in the former Soviet Union. It is celebrated in many countries of the world on March 8.
According to some sources, 28 countries recognize this day as an official holiday, while others claim there are 32 such countries. And it is not that easy to do the math, since there are essential differences in the status of this day.
Many sources believe that the foundation of the holiday was laid on February 28, 1908, when a mass rally for women’s equality was held in New York. In particular, women protested against working conditions, stood for equal wages with men, and, most importantly, for giving women the voting right. It should be noted that people who considered themselves absolutely apolitical used to join the rallies for women's rights at that time.
Reportedly, on March 8, 1908, women held another protest against child labor exploitation. And exactly one year later, the Socialist Party of America initiated the annual National Women's Day. Until 1913, it was celebrated on the last Sunday in February.
The history of women's organized struggle for their rights has deep roots. This topic is impossible to exhaust, therefore, we will name only some of the achievements of that period that immediately preceded the establishment of International Women's Day or were associated with it.
So, for example, according to some sources, on March 8, 1857, New York garment workers and seamstresses staged a protest against the harsh working conditions and low wages. But other sources deny the very fact of that first "Cacerolazo".
On March 8, 1893, women in New Zealand were the first in the world to receive voting rights. In Australia, the right to vote was granted to women in 1902, in Finland (part of the Russian Empire back then) in 1906, in Norway in 1913, in Denmark and Iceland in 1915, and in Russia in 1917, after the February Revolution. And then this process became irreversible for most countries.
But let us get back to the origins of Women's Day.
On August 27, 1910, the Second International Socialist Women's Conference was held in Copenhagen during the Congress of the Second International. Clara Zetkin and Käte Duncker suggested organizing protests in Europe in support of women's rights, similar to those held in North America. For this purpose, it was proposed to establish an International Women's Day, so women from all over the world could coincidently hold rallies and demonstrations to solve their problems of a political and social nature. As to this initiative, the Conference resolved: “Every year, in agreement with the class-conscious, political and trade union organizations of the proletariat, the Socialist women of all countries will hold each year a Women’s Day, whose foremost purpose must be to aid the attainment of women’s suffrage. The Women’s Day must have an international character and is to be prepared carefully.” That is, initially and before the early 1990s, March 8 had a rich political and social overtone. It actually was not a "holiday of spring and love for women" only.
It is worth saying a few words about Clara Zetkin. She was a well-known member of international and German socialist and communist movements in the 19th and 20th centuries, one of the founders of the Second International and the Communist Party in Germany, an activist of the feminist movement. Clara represented the German Communist Party in Reichstag from 1920 to 1933. She headed the International Women's Secretariat n the Executive Committee of the Comintern. When the ideas of Nazism and Fascism became popular in Germany and other European countries, Clara Zetkin actively opposed them.
As a result, after 1917, the women's movement in Germany split into socialist and communist branches. It was Clara who headed the communist one. She also took away with her Women's Day of March 8. And since 1926, the socialists celebrated their own women’s holiday, but its date was changing. As the chroniclers of the women's rights movement note, at that time both the communist and the socialist movements waged a relentless struggle for the same list of benefits: food price decline, hot meals for schoolchildren in all places, and also permission of abortion. It was the case before the German National Socialists came to power in 1933.
After Hitler and his party came to power, Clara Zetkin was forced to emigrate to the Soviet Union in 1933. There she died, was cremated, and her ashes were buried near the Kremlin wall all in the same year. And the Nazis replaced Women's Day with the family Mother's Day, which was celebrated until the memorable 1945. And in 1948, Mother's Day was celebrated again in West Germany. And East Germany started celebrating International Women's Day again.
It is worth noting that in the first quarter of the 20th century, International Women's Day was celebrated in a number of European states at different times. In 1911, the first Women's Day events were held in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Australia, Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland on March 19. They had great success with socialist and communist women. In 1912, rallies were held on May 12. In 1913, the dates of the events were the following: in the Russian Empire and France - on March 2, in Austro-Hungary, the Swiss Confederation, and Holland - on March 9, and in Germany - on March 12.
The first mass events associated with Women's Day were held in Russia on March 2, 1913. About 1,500 protesters gathered in the building of the Kalashnikovskaya grain exchange in St. Petersburg. They discussed such issues as the introduction of state maternity support due to the high cost of living, as well as the voting rights for women.
And only in 1914, International Women's Day was celebrated on March 8 in Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Russia, and Switzerland. In the Russian Empire, members of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (Bolsheviks) published the first issue of Rabotnitsa, a magazine for women, on March 8 of the same year.
In the Russian Empire, only the revolution of 1905 made the movement pursuing to equalize political rights of women and men possible. Ever since this phenomenon has been known as the women's liberation movement. Women's associations began to emerge, in fact – political ones, such as the Union of Equality of Women and the Women's Progressive Party in 1905, the League of Equality of Women in 1907, etc.
Put it shortly: since 1913, Women's Day in Russia was directly related to the struggle of women for political and socio-economic rights.
Such following events as World War I, the February and October revolutions in Russia and World War II delayed the celebration of Women's Day as a holiday. But rallies continued, including protests against the war which affected everyone, but women and children were affected drastically.
Nevertheless, Women's Day was still celebrated. In the Soviet republics formed in the territory of Russia after the October Revolution of 1917, it was the day when women came together for rallies, demonstrations, held various political events. It was common to endow women with certificates and various awards. Though, to tell the truth, at first Women's Day was renamed into the Day of Festival of the Combat Forces of Women Workers and Peasants of the Whole Country.
In the spring of 1921, the Third Congress of the Comintern was held in Moscow. During it - on March 8 - the Second International Conference of Communist Women was held. It was resolved to honor the role of Russian women in the revolutionary struggle and to celebrate March 8 as the International Day of Working Women. It was associated with the fourth anniversary of the strike of the workers of the Torshilovskaya factory (Nevskaya Thread Manufactory Partnership) in Petrograd, who went to an anti-war demonstration under the slogan "Bread and Peace!" They were supported by workers of other enterprises. The strike was followed by riots, clashes with the police. According to a number of historians, the rally by Petrograd women had a significant impact on the outbreak of the February Revolution in Russia on February 23, 1917, according to the Julian calendar (March 8 - according to the Gregorian calendar). Thus, the word "international" has been closely associated to Women's Day.
And subsequently, on March 8, formal sessions and meetings dedicated to International Communist Women's Day (for instance, in 1942) and later - International Women's Day (for instance, in 1961) were held throughout all the republics of the USSR. At such events, the female shock workers of socialist labor were honored; the laws drafted for the social protection of women were discussed. In 1965, March 8 was declared a non-working holiday in the USSR, and it has preserved its status as such in the Russian Federation and a number of post-Soviet republics to this day.
Until the collapse of the USSR, International Women's Day was a kind of ideological holiday mostly associated with the ideas of internationalism, honoring women workers, solidarity with working women from all over the world, etc. But gradually the celebration turned into non-political one, as well as the respective attributes featuring congratulations to women as mothers, wives, sisters. Such attributes included festive postcards, March 8, a popular perfume, etc.
Most states that were strategic allies of the Soviet socialist state also began to celebrate March 8.
Ten years later, and probably under the influence of the socialist states, the United Nations recognized March 8 as International Women's Day.
The UN proclaimed 1975 to be the International Year of Women and resolved to celebrate International Women's Day annually starting from March 8 of that year. At the same time, the International Decade for Women (1976-1985) was declared. In addition, the states of the world were invited to take into account national traditions and customs and to proclaim any day of 1977 as the official holiday for women's rights and world peace. Subsequently, the UN assigned each Women's Day with one of the relevant themes. For example, the 2020 International Women's Day was focused on the theme, “An equal world is an enabled world”; the 2019 theme was “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”; in 2018 it was “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women's lives”...
Where is March 8 celebrated nowadays?
Many immigrants from the Soviet Union and Russia who live all over the world still see this day as an International Women's Day. March 8 has the status of a public holiday celebrated by women, for women, and in honor of women in such countries as Abkhazia, Azerbaijan, Armenia (the Holiday of Motherhood and Beauty), Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan (Mother’s Day), Ukraine, Turkmenistan, and South Ossetia. But in Lithuania, local conservatives removed March 8 from the list of holidays back in 1997. And only in 2002, it was declared an official day off as the Day of Women's Solidarity. It is considered, just as in Russia, to be a Spring Holiday. Concerts and festivals are arranged to coincide with it.
International Women's Day on March 8 is recognized as a national holiday and/or a day off, or a women’s holiday with some local peculiarities in a number of states around the world, such as Angola, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Zambia, Cambodia, Kenya, Kiribati, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Costa Rica, Cuba, Latvia, Mongolia, Nepal, Serbia, Uganda, Croatia, Montenegro, and Eritrea ... In Vietnam, March 8 is associated with the Commemoration Day of the Trưng Sisters, the heroines of the fight against Chinese aggression. In Madagascar and Laos, it is a day off for the female population, and in the People's Republic of China, it is a holiday with a shorter working day for women.
Interestingly, March 8 has been recognized as a regional holiday in Germany since 2019, and it is a day off in Berlin only. The rest of the federal states do not officially celebrate International Women's Day, but feminist rallies are held.
And it is not everywhere that women get gifts on International Women's Day. For example, the program for March 8 in Western Germany features women's rallies for equality and against gender discrimination. But flowers are still given to women in the districts that were formerly part of the German Democratic Republic.
Nowadays some countries do celebrate International Women's Day, but March 8 is not a day off and not an official holiday in Brazil, Italy, Portugal, and Chile. In some countries, it is Communists who continue to celebrate Women's Day, for example, in Spain, where this tradition dates back to 1936. In Italy, Portugal, and Romania on March 8, the fairer sex traditionally holds women's parties ("ladies parties") without the men being present.
Actually, if we are to talk about the territory of historical Russia, nowadays March 8 is more often celebrated with colleagues and the family. However, at the same time, the tradition has been preserved to hold official meetings, concerts, folk festivals, and other entertainment events for March 8.
However, International Women's Day can still be used as a global benchmark for women's rights campaigns.
Women's rights experts believe that after the end of World War II, the women's movement faced the need to seek those rights that had already been proclaimed in international treaties and were gradually reflected in national legislation. Thus, in 1945, it was outlined in the Charter of the United Nations that equality between men and women was one of the fundamental human rights. It triggered the adoption of the requirements of international documents, including European conventions, at the national level.
In 1960, a woman headed the government for the first time. It was Sirimavo Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka. Isabel Peron became the world's first woman president in Argentina in 1974. Women have been participating in political processes on an equal basis in many developed countries taking the road of progress
In 1979, during the International Decade for Women, the UN approved CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women). More than 40 years have passed since then, but the implementation of the declared principles, including their inclusion into the legislation of most states, still requires Herculean efforts from members of the feminist movement, all structures of women's political and social activities, as well as from supporters of social justice in each of the countries.