History of International Women's Day

Working class origins of International Women's Day

There are two international days celebrated around the world that have its roots and origins in international working class and socialist movement. The May Day and International Women’s Day were initiated by ordinary working class men and women. The international capitalist institutions like United Nations and capitalist ruling elite recognised both days decades later.  
Like the May Day-International Women’s Day was first celebrated by the working class women and Socialists. It is commonly accepted that International Women’s Day was born out of the socialist movement in the early 20th century.
The birth of International Women’s Day in the early 20th century was strongly linked to labour movements and socialism. The women’s rights movement emerged with the rise of working-class movements and was linked with revolutionary movements of the working class for radical social transformation and reconstruction of society. International Women’s Day inherited a tradition of protest and political activism.
This day is a reminder that all the democratic, economic, legal and political rights that women enjoy today were won through struggle and sacrifice. It shows us what can be achieved through struggle, solidarity and unity.

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. It is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
Women’s day is the celebration of the tradition of struggle, sacrifice and courage. This is a tradition to convert pain, suffering and helplessness into strength and power. Historically, the day was about highlighting the relationship between capitalism and women’s oppression, and that remains significant today.
Capitalist exploitation, repression, sexism, discrimination and gender inequality still exist. In many countries around the world, women still face all sorts of restrictions, social segregation and reactionary customs and medieval traditions.
In 1907, the women textile workers, facing long working hours, low pay, and dangerous working conditions took to the streets of New York in protest. The economic and social conditions forced them to enter into struggles and movements to change their conditions.
 In the years before 1910, from the turn of the 20th century, women in industrially developing countries were entering paid work. Their jobs were mainly in textiles, manufacturing and domestic services where conditions were wretched and wages even worse. They had no other option but to fight back.
It all started with a strike organised by young female garment workers in New York in 1908. Their victory inspired the Socialist Party of America to organise ‘Women’s Day’ marches across the country in March 1910. The New York march demanded higher wages and better working conditions, along with women’s suffrage.
This strike, fought by thousands of young women who worked long hours for meager wages in New York City’s garment factories, is one of the most important struggles in the history of the US working class.

In 1910, an International Socialist Women’s Conference, organised in Copenhagen and including women from 17 countries, voted to establish an annual International Woman’s Day to promote equal rights and women’s suffrage on the proposal of German Socialists Clara Zetkin and Luise Zietz.
The first International Women’s Day was celebrated on 19 March 1911, and more than one million women and men from Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland participated in IWD rallies. Demands such as an end to gender discrimination and rights to work, train, vote, and hold political office were at the forefront of their campaign.
At the International Women’s Conference, which preceded the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen in August 1910, leading German socialists Luise Zietz and Clara Zetkin proposed the establishment of an annual International Woman’s Day as a strategy to promote equal rights, including suffrage, for women. More than 100 female delegates from 17 countries unanimously endorsed the proposal.
In the following years, similar events spread across the European continent. Generally spearheaded by socialist women, demonstrations called for women’s rights and female suffrage, and many feminists readily joined their socialist sisters.

Russian women had first celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 in 1913. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was also triggered by women workers. It was on International Women’s Day in 1917 that Russian women workers organised massive strikes and demonstrations against war, high prices, and the situation of women workers. The main slogan of this strike movement was Bread and Peace. The strike movement spread very quickly, overturning the czarist dictatorship and triggering the Russian Revolution that achieved final victory in October of that same year.
International Women’s Day had remained a communist holiday until the end of the 20th century, to be precise in 1975, marked by carefully orchestrated, state-sponsored celebrations of women’s contributions to the state.   
During the International Women’s Year in 1975, the United Nations first celebrated International Women’s Day. Two years later, in 1977, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.
                                                   Rukhsana Manzoor Deputy Editor

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