While each deserves to tell its own unique story, the several efforts to honor the lives and work of women during the month of March can be difficult to untangle. On Friday, March 8, 2013, groups around the globe will celebrate International Women’s Day. The theme for IWD 2013 is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.” As Minnesota legislators, along with countless legislative bodies throughout the nation and the world grapple with the issue, it a good time to revisit the history of IWD itself.
The stories of early IWD’s are a bit mixed. The first national day in the U.S., February 28, 1909, flowed from the declaration of the Socialist Party in America. The next year, in August 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen. As a result of that gathering Luise Zietz proposed establishment of an annual International Woman’s Day; the proposal was seconded by Clara Zetkin and approved unanimously by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries. Though the celebration was approved, no fixed date was selected.
In 1911, following the Copenhagen decision, International Women’s Day was observed for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. More than one million women participated. High on the agenda were women’s right to vote, to hold public office, to vocational training and for protection of women’s employment rights.
The next year, the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai persuaded Lenin to declare this an official holiday. During this era IWD became associated with efforts to protest World War I. As part of the peace movement Russian women observed their first IWD on the last Sunday in February 1916.
Even during 1917, as the war continued, Russian women chose to strike for “Bread and Peace” on the last Sunday in February – which was, in fact, March 8 on the Gregorian calendar. Within days, the Czar abdicated and the provisional government granted Russian women the right to vote.
From the beginning the official adoption of IWD by the Soviets in 1917 the day was primarily celebrated in the Soviet Bloc and Socialist nations. The Chinese signed on in 1922 and the Spanish Communists joined in 1936. Today IWD remains an official holiday in Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Macedonia (for women only), Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zamia.
IWD emerged on the public agenda in the West when the charter of the United Nations, agreed upon in 1945, included the first international affirmation of the principle of equality between women and men. Four decades later, during 1975, International Women’s Year, the UN gave official approval for observance and sponsorship of International Women’s Day.
Born as a protest again women’s suppression in the workplace. IWD has taken on a wide array of themes and causes. Last year, for example, the theme of IWD was Empower Women – End hunger and poverty. The topic will continue on the agenda this year when the executive heads of the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.S, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the International Development Law Organization meet in Rome on March 8 to observe IWD 2013.
There are countless online resources for learning more about International Women’s Day, its history and the global reach of the campaign to promote the theme and programs. There are materials for children and teachers, reading lists, special coins, stamps, posters and many more resources. There are also human resources, especially women who have participated in the process of establish women’s rights around the globe. Some of them will be in New York on March 8 where the Commission on the Status of Women will be holding their 57th Session March 4-15 at UN headquarters. The priority of this year’s discussion will be on the 2013 theme, focused on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.
Though IWD is just one special day within Women’s History Month, it is a day to learn about or reflect on International Women’s Day, a global effort now nearing its centenary