International Women’s Day 2021
Today marks International Women’s Day (IWD), a day when countries all over the world celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and rally together for gender equality.
The origins of IWD can be traced back to March 8, 1857, when garment workers in New York City staged a protest against inhumane working conditions and low wages. Although the protesters were attacked and dispersed by the police, the movement continued and led to the creation of the first women’s labour union.
Fast forward to March 8, 1908: 15,000 women marched in New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. It was the Socialist Party of America who declared the first National Woman’s Day, a year later.
The next year, the idea of an International Women’s Day (then International Working Women’s Day) was introduced during the International Conference of Working Women 1910 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Clara Zetkin, a German socialist, suggested a holiday honouring the strike of garment workers in the U.S. The proposal received unanimous approval from the 100 women from 17 countries. IWD was agreed to be marked annually on March 8th.
Not even a week after the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911, a fire broke out the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. The blaze killed 146 people, mostly young immigrant women, which exposed the poor working conditions. The incident led to the creation of the Factory Investigating Commission, which included Francis Perkins, who would become the first female secretary of labour, and labour union activists.
The commission’s findings led to several laws in New York that mandated safety standards, minimum wage, unemployment assistance, and support for workers when they grow old. These laws paved the way for President Franklin Roosevelt‘s New Deal legislation. In addition to the changes made in industrial working conditions, the fire and the memory of those who died has been often invoked as part of International Women’s Days from that point on.
The holiday was especially popular for many years in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and gradually became more of an international celebration. The United Nations celebrated International Women’s Year in 1975, and in 1977, the United Nations officially got behind the annual honouring of women’s rights known as International Women’s Day, a day “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 women’s rights.”
While the origins of IWD are rooted in politics, today IWD is a day which celebrates how far women have come in society and is marked as a national holiday in many countries. In Russia the sales of flowers doubles around 8th March. As advised by the state council; in China, many women are given a half-day off work, and in Italy the day is celebrated by giving out mimosa blossom, the flower symbolising respect.
Sadly, in some countries IWD has come to be a day of protest against women’s rights. Therefore, IWD should also remind us that women’s rights aren’t accepted in many countries to this day, and that struggle for equitable societies is still met with protest, violence and discrimination as well as blocking the potential of those women. By celebrating it in the UK, where we are free to do so, shines a light of hope to the women in these countries.
The theme of this year’s IWD is #ChooseToChallenge which stems from the idea that a challenged world is an alert world and individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions. “We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality,” the campaign states. “We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.”
Due to Covid-19 celebrations this year will look a little different. Nevertheless, there are still many ways you can get involved. There are many virtual events, talks and roundtables being organised globally that are free to partake in. A full schedule of events is available on the official IWD website here.
People are also being encouraged to share an image of themselves on social media with their hand raised high to show they choose to challenge and call out inequality. The organisation is also encouraging participating to use hashtags #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021 and will feature the best ones on their social platforms.
However you choose to mark IWD, it is important to remember that equality is a collective effort and is a value strived for by anyone, regardless of gender, who cares about human rights.