International Women’s Day: a Vent, and some History

By Ludovica Martella

Today, March 8th is International Women's Day (IWD,) a celebration of social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. It is, however, or at least it should be, a reminder to accelerate gender parity around the world. 

In Italy, to celebrate the day, men give yellow mimosas to women. “Communist politician Teresa Mattei chose the mimosa in 1946 as the symbol of IWD in Italy because she felt that the French symbols of the day, violets and lily-of-the-valley, were too scarce and expensive to be used effectively in Italy”  Wikipedia.  Photo: Pixabay

In Italy, to celebrate the day, men give yellow mimosas to women. “Communist politician Teresa Mattei chose the mimosa in 1946 as the symbol of IWD in Italy because she felt that the French symbols of the day, violets and lily-of-the-valley, were too scarce and expensive to be used effectively in Italy” Wikipedia. Photo: Pixabay

People who know me and who know my work and ethical background know that I am feminist and an advocate for gender equality. I do this because I stand with any minority group that is not treated equally, or that is discriminated against, because of some invented societal norms. Said this, I feel a bit strange about IWD. I am sure that out there, IWD is a marketing scheme for companies and men in power to show that they are in favor of gender parity, but what truly matters are actions, not words. Why am I saying this? Because as a woman, who also worked in institutions “for women,” still witness the discrimination women face in and outside the work place. Said this, having an IWD celebrated in more than 100 countries around the world, CAN be a way to start a fruitful conversation about gender equality around the world. It is the way that we use this achievement, which must be effective in order to achieve this big goal of gender equality.

For instance, what are educational institutions and companies doing in order to teach and bring awareness to specific gender-related issues to children and fully-grown adults? It would be wonderful if more schools would use this day in order to bring to children’s attention issues such as the perception that “girls need to be pretty” in order to be accepted in society. It would be even more wonderful if human resources (HR) or/and corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments would hold dedicated sessions to bring awareness to issues such as sexual misconduct in and outside the work place, between many. This should be mandatory. Why is it not happening? Because it would take away time from proceeding on the curriculum or on completing work? Let me tell you, we waste more time (and personal stress) on having individual meetings with teachers and HR colleagues because “my daughter won’t attend gym class because Jimmy told her she is a girl and can’t play ball,” or because “Kevin will collaborate with me only if I promise to go on a date with him.” These problems are real and affect us on a personal level. I, as many women (and here I am including every individual who identifies as a woman,) have experienced these and want to see more action instead of words. 

Now that my vent is over, here’s some historical background of IWD, which can be interesting in order to frame our discussion around this day.

The women's liberation movement march in Washington, August 1970. Picture: Getty

The women's liberation movement march in Washington, August 1970. Picture: Getty

Historically, IWD emerged from the fights of labor movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe. Back in 1909, the first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on February 28 by The Socialist Party of America, in honor of the garment workers’ strike in 1908 in New York City. In this occasion, women and men marched in order to demand better working conditions and equal rights. 

Inspired by American socialists, Luise Zietz, a renowned German socialist, proposed the establishment of ‘International Woman’s Day.’ In 1910, the proposal was well accepted in a general meeting of the Socialist International in Copenhagen, Denmark. As a result, on March 19, 1911, that International Women’s Day was observed for the first time in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland. 

In Russia, as part of the peace movement during the World War I, women observed their first International Women’s Day on February 1913. It was only in 1917 that Russian women protested again, and called a strike for “Bread and Peace” on the last Sunday in February, which fell on 8 March according to the Gregorian calendar. Four days prior to that, the Czar of Russia resigned and the interim government granted the right to vote to women. 

In the United States, actress and human rights activist Beata Pozniak worked with the Mayor of Los Angeles and the Governor of California to lobby members of the U.S. Congress to propose official recognition of the holiday. In February 1994, H. J. Res. 316 was introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters, along with 79 cosponsors, in an attempt to officially recognize March 8 of that year as International Women's Day. The bill was subsequently referred to, and remained in, the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service. No vote of either house of Congress was achieved on this piece of legislation.

However, it was only during late 1975 that the United Nations started observing International Women’s Day on March 8.

UN Secretary General António Guterres addressing the importance of IWD at the General Assembly in New York on March 8th 2018. Picture: Ludovica Martella

UN Secretary General António Guterres addressing the importance of IWD at the General Assembly in New York on March 8th 2018. Picture: Ludovica Martella

Today, IWD is celebrated in more than a 100 countries and is an official holiday in Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar, Mongolia, Nepal, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zambia.

In some countries (such as Bulgaria and Romania) it is also observed as an equivalent of Mother's Day.

As of 2019, International Women's Day will also be celebrated as a public holiday in the federal state of Berlin, Germany.

If you are big on timelines, here’s one by the UN. 

Happy IWD, sisters.