March 8th is the annual day of celebration for International Women’s Day, and in 2014 it falls on a Saturday. Every year on that date, women around the world observe the day. Early recognition of the day – as National Women’s Day – began more than 100 years ago. In 1908, females marched through the streets of New York City, demanding voting rights and workers’ rights – better pay and shorter hours. This was the New York Garment Workers’ Strike – at the time, led by The Socialist Party of America.
Internationally, the Day got its start two years later in Copenhagen with the International Conference of Working Women, which including representation by 17 countries. A proposal was submitted that Women’s Day be celebrated on the same day every year, as a form of solidarity, to press for women’s demands.
In 1917, a Women’s Day protest in St. Petersburg had the effect of triggering the revolution that led to the destruction of the Russian Empire.
Ten years after the birth of National Women’s Day in New York City, International Women’s Day (IWD) has become a globally recognized day that includes celebrations in developing nations as well as in the developed world. In 1975, the United Nations issued the Decade for Women. In 2014 the day is marked by large-scale events that observe female achievements and advancements the world over.
For much of the world, however, the day is not about celebration, but struggle for recognition of humanity. There are lots of examples of this right here in the U.S.: Over 17 million women live in poverty, more than 60,000 girls and women are trafficked annually across international borders. And 70 percent of women in the world have experienced some form of sexual or other physical violence.
Issues that now face females – and consequently, are present in International Women’s Day observances – are equal pay for equal work, women’s full participation in politics and business, promoting health and education for women, and combating violence against women. Throughout the world, thousands of events commemorate the progress that women have made, as well as petitions for equitable conditions for all. In the U.S. the entire month is designated as Women’s History Month.
Since the Cold War, the U.S. separated itself from any connection to International Women’s Day’s socialist roots. However, during the 1960s, when feminism was a popular movement, IWD began to be observed on college campuses, at educational events, and at conferences. The first U.S. Ambassador for Women’s Global Issues, Melanne Verveer, describes the increased interconnectivity that women globally realize they have today, as an important investment for the future of the world and its development.
There are several resources available to highlight the importance of International Women’s Day. Wherewomenwork.com offers a list and information about companies that have diversity and progressive work environments and practices, focusing on recruiting, developing, and retaining female talent. Follow International Women’s Day 2014 on Twitter at @womensday. A trans-global slide show of International Women’s Day is available through Reuters.
The theme of International Women’s Day 2014 is inspiring change. Every March 8th, Google runs a special logo on its search engine page. For this year’s visual celebration that includes women’s lives and achievements, as well as whimsical depictions, saying “Happy International Women’s Day” and set to music by Zap Mama (from Belgium), see the video below.
By Fern Remedi-Brown