International Women's Day - The History and Achievements..

March 8, 2010

In many countries around the world, the International Women's Day is celebrated on 8th March every year. It is a special day when the achievements of women in the past are recognized and the struggle for economic, social and political empowerment of millions of marginalized women in many of the developing and underdeveloped countries is highlighted. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.

International Women's Day is the story of ordinary women as makers of history. It is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men. As this year marks the centenary of the beginning of the idea of  the observation of  a ’Women’s Day’ in 1910, it would be appropriate to review the women’s movement through the century and to find out whether there has been any marked improvement in the condition of women.

The theme for 2010 is "Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all."

The idea of an International Women's Day first arose at the turn of the 20th century, which in the industrialized world was a period of expansion and turbulence, booming population growth and emergence of radical ideologies. The history of International Women’s Day can be traced to an event that took place in 1908. It was in New York (USA), women garment workers demanded improved working conditions and better wages in the company. The worked in unhygienic conditions and their wages were too meagre that equalled half of men's wages. Moreover, they had no right to vote.

At the International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen (Denmark) in 1910, a woman named  Clara Zetkin, a member of the Social Democratic Party in Germany, proposed the idea of an International Women's Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration of ‘Women’s Day’ on the same day in order to mobilise the women and press for their demands for decent life, wages and right to vote. At this time in England, women were demanding the right to vote. Their slogan was, "Give Women the Vote". Thus, the International Women’s Day came to be represented as an occasion for emphasising equality between women and men.
Following the decision agreed at Copenhagen in 1911, International Women's Day (IWD) was observed for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19th March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination.

On the eve of the First World War, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February 1913 during which they campaigned for peace. In 1913, following discussions, International Women's Day was transferred to 8th March and this day has remained the global date for International Women’s Day ever since.

In 1914, women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the First World War and to express women's solidarity. As the First World War was in progress, Russian women began a strike for "bread and peace" in response to the death of over 2 million Russian soldiers in the War. Opposed by political leaders the women continued to strike until four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate by the revolutionaries and the provisional government granted the Russian women the right to vote.

Since its birth in the socialist movement, International Women's Day has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries. For decades, celebration of the International Women’s Day has become widespread. For many years the United Nations has held an annual International Women’s Day conference to coordinate international efforts for women's rights and participation in social, political and economic processes. 

The United Nations designated 1975 as 'International Women's Year'. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming that a United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace be observed on any day of the year by Member States in accordance with their historical and national traditions.

However, in majority of the countries around the world, International Women’s Day has been celebrated every year on 8th March by holding large-scale events that honour women's achievements and progress.  In adopting its resolution, the General Assembly recognized the role of women in peace efforts and development and urged an end to discrimination and an increase of support for women's full and equal participation in different fields of human activity.  

The turn of the 21st century has witnessed a significant change in the condition and thoughts of women. There has been also shift in attitude of the society in relation to women’s equality and emancipation. Many from a younger generation feel that all the battles have been won for women. With more and more women acquiring education, occupying important positions in business and politics and even joining armed forces one could think that women have gained true equality. There have been women prime ministers and presidents, female astronauts, women are welcomed in the universities and women can work and have a family. This apparently indicates that women have real choices. However, the unfortunate fact is that compared to men, women are still not paid equal wages as their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women's education, health and status in the society are still far from anything but equal.

The condition of women still requires a lot of improvement and there is much that has to be done by the United Nations, governments as well as women’s organisations in ameliorating the miserable condition due to which many women suffer around the world. In India, thousands of young women have been harassed for dowry and even murdered or forced to commit suicide.  In many countries honour killing of women still goes on unabated. In many of the African countries female genital mutilation is being carried out. Violence and rape against women have been the common factor in most of the countries of the world. Universal education of girls in many developing and underdeveloped countries is still a far cry.

Over the years, United Nations action for the advancement of women has taken four clear directions: promotion of legal measures; mobilization of public opinion and international action; training and research, including the compilation of gender desegregated statistics; and direct assistance to disadvantaged groups. Today a central organizing principle of the work of the United Nations is that no enduring solution to society's most threatening social, economic and political problems can be found without the full participation, and the full empowerment of the world's women.

Indian women are eagerly waiting for Monday, 8th March 2010, when the government of India intends to introduce the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Parliament which would ensure 33 per cent reservation of seats for the women in the Lok Sabha. This bill has been hanging fire since 14 years due to lack of political will on the part of some of the political parties with strong patriarchal roots. They had been scuttling the passage of the bill on the pretext of ‘possible discrimination’ against the women belonging to minority, scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities. Hence, they have been demanding ‘reservation within reservation’ to women of these communities. However, those parties who speak of empowering the women should at least forget their political differences and pass the bill so that in the centenary year of the beginning of the idea of International Women’s Day, India would lead the way by politically empowering women by granting 33 per cent reservation for the women in the Lok Sabha.

In spite of many problems that the women face throughout the world, one can clearly see that during the past century the women have achieved quite a lot and comparatively their condition and position in society have been considerably enhanced. The United Nations as well as the constitutions of different countries have given equal opportunities to women in every field of human activity. If many women around the world have not been able to avail the facilities to improve their lot, the reason lies in their traditional conservative roots, religious obscurantism and social norms that prevent them from achieving equal rights with men. The observation of the International Women’s Day year after year would definitely help in empowering the women and attain their rightful place in the society.

By Dr. Eugene D’Souza, Moodubelle
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Comment on this article

  • adshenoy, mangaluru

    Mon, Mar 08 2010

    A great way forward in history. But designation of a day or reservation of seats, is this enough? Dont we need more undersatnding as humans and society? Affirmative actions are forced actions. These dont work entirely until there is no gender bias.. . Equal rights , equal opportunities- this has to come from within. Then only, I can say we have progressed as humanity.

  • Antony Crasta, Mangalore/Sydney, Australia

    Mon, Mar 08 2010

    A well researched, collated and compiled article by Dr. Eugene D`Souza, as usual, narrated and presented to us through the Daijiworld, in his inimitable style, on the eve of International Women`s day, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I hope the long pending Bill on Women`s Reservation of Seats in the Lok Sabha passes through the Indian Parliament soon, which would facilitate more women actively taking part in politics and thus contribute to the betterment of their lot.

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