As March 8 approaches, the entire world’s population or the women at least, prepare for the arrival of International Women’s Day. The fight for women’s rights and recognition has come far these past few years and surely none of the participants of the first rally on February 28, 1909 had any idea of the impact on history that such a momentous event would have. Initially just a rally by 15,000 women in New York who demanded shorter hours, better pay and voting rights, the International Women’s Day has now become a major day of celebration, highlighting the achievements of women through the decades.
Women have not always enjoyed the same rights and freedoms that they enjoy now. At the turn of the 20th century, there was a growing unrest among women who were employed in the clothing and textile industry over the poor working conditions and low wages. This eventually led to a rally on March 8, 1857. It did not take long for more women to rally for the same cause as the historic beginnings of International Women’s Day were to begin on February 28, 1909 in New York.
Soon after that, the first International Women’s Conference was held in Copenhagen and the International Women’s Day was established. International Women’s Day was not always called such since the first movement in 1909 was recognized a National Women’s Day by the participants at the first rally in New York. This was celebrated as such till the last Sunday of February in 1913. The term International Women’s Day only became recognized after the first International Women’s Conference in 1910 where it was submitted by the important German Socialist Clara Zetkin.
The year after that, in 1910, the International Women’s Day was soon observed by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. During that event, there were more than one million woman and men present as the attended the International Women’s Day rallies to campaign for the improvement of women’s rights and the recognition of women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and to end all discrimination against women.
A week later whoever a tragic event occurred and was to be known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City where over 140 working women lost their lives. The sacrifices made by those brave women furthered the cause of women in the United States as that disastrous event drew the country’s attention to the poor working conditions in clothing and textile factories as well as the poor labor legislation for women’s rights.
From its inception in the socialist movement, International Women’s Day has fast become a global day of recognition and celebration that is celebrated in many developed and developing countries all over the world. The United Nations has annually sponsored an International Women’s Day conference in an effort to coordinate international movements for better women’s rights and increased women’s participation in the social, political and economic processes in many countries. Finally, in 1975, the United Nations, in an attempt to improve the recognition of women’s rights, declared it as International Women’s Year.
In the international scene, International Women’s Day has been observed annually every March 8 by women’s organizations and national governments alike, hosting events honoring the advancement of women’s rights and participation and also reminding the rest of the world of the importance of maintaining a diligent effort to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life. International Women’s Day is now recognized as an official holiday in Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
The changing world has borne witness to perhaps one of the most significant changes or attitudinal shifts in women’s rights and participation and society’s thoughts on women’s equality and emancipation. While there are a number of people from the present generation, men and women alike, who feel that the International Women’s Day has furthered the cause of women to its peak, there are also a number of feminists who firmly believe that the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy still exists in certain portions of the world.
There is some truth to this belief as despite the increased visibility of women as role models and the greater equality of women in legislative rights there are still a number of women who do not receive the same benefits that men receive. Women are still not paid at par with men in the business or working environments and neither do they have the same representation in business or politics. It is also unfortunate to note that women’s education, health and the violence against them, on a global scale, is still worse off than that of their male counterparts.
There is a lot of hope however as the support for International Women’s Day has expanded to include many global corporations who regularly sponsor internal and external events supporting International Women’s Day. The United States designates the whole month of March as “Women’s History Month” and many global corporations such as Google, Accenture, Nortel and HSBC have held leadership development sessions, career workshops and corporate citizenship events held across six continents in support of International Women’s Day and in furtherance of the rights of women all over the world.