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Women’s Day

Women’s Day

According to a survey by the End Violence against Women Coalition almost two-thirds of women in the UK have had unwanted sexual attention in public places, a survey by YouGov has suggested.

Out of 889 women asked, 64% said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment, with 35% saying they had suffered “unwanted sexual touching”.

Sarah Green, the coalition’s acting director, said sexual harassment was “an everyday experience” in the UK.

Historical Perspective

International Women’s Day has been held on 8 March every year since 1913, and has been recognized by the United Nations since 1975. The UN says it’s a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

The earliest Women’s Day observance was held on February 28, 1909, in New York; it was organized by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.  There was no specific strike happening on March 8, despite later claims.

In August 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen, Denmark. Inspired in part by the American socialists, German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed the establishment of an annual ‘International Woman’s Day’ (singular) and was seconded by fellow socialist and later communist leader Clara Zetkin, although no date was specified at that conference. Delegates (100 women from 17 countries) agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote equal rights, including suffrage, for women. The following year, on March 19, 1911, IWD was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire alone, there were 300 demonstrations.  In Vienna, women paraded on the Ringstrasse and carried banners honoring the martyrs of the Paris Commune. Women demanded that women be given the right to vote and to hold public office. They also protested against employment sex discrimination.  Americans continued to celebrate National Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February.

Although there were some women-led strikes, marches, and other protests in the years leading up to 1914, none of them happened on March 8. In 1914 International Women’s Day was held on March 8, possibly because that day was a Sunday, and now it is always held on March 8 in all countries. The 1914 observance of the Day in Germany was dedicated to women’s right to vote, which German women did not win until 1918.

In London there was a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage on 8 March 1914. Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square.

Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day for “Bread and Peace” – demanding the end of World War I, an end to Russian food shortages, and the end of czarism. Leon Trotsky wrote, “23 February (8th March) was International Woman’s Day and meetings and actions were foreseen. But we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’ would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike… all went out into the streets.”

 

Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai and Vladimir Lenin made it an official holiday in the Soviet Union, and it was established, but was a working day until 1965. On May 8th, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women’s Day was declared a non-working day in the USSR “in commemoration of the outstanding merits of Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Fatherland during the Great Patriotic War, in their heroism and selflessness at the front and in the rear, and also marking the great contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples, and the struggle for peace. But still, women’s day must be celebrated as are other holidays.”

From its official adoption in Russia following the Soviet Revolution in 1917 the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist and socialist countries. It was celebrated by the communists in China from 1922, and by Spanish communists from 1936.

In the West, International Women’s Day was first observed as a popular event after 1977 when the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.

Today, 2016’s Celebrations

The theme of this year’s day is “Planet 50-50 by 2030” – aiming to achieve global equality in areas such as education and end all forms of discrimination.

The idea of this theme is to consider how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals, especially to Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; and to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning. The theme will also focus on new commitments under UN Women’s Step It Up initiative, and other existing commitments on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.

Some key targets of the 2030 Agenda:

  • By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes.
  • By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education.
  • End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
  • Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
  • Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Women have seen only “marginal improvements” in the world of work in the past 20 years, according to a global study. The International Labour Organization (ILO) said the difference in the employment rate between men and women had decreased by 0.6% since 1995.

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fahad farooq

fahad farooq