Every year, the global fraternity celebrates March 8 as International Women’s Day. Women’s Day celebrates women and their cultural, political, social, and economic achievements; calls out inequality, and raises awareness against the challenges and biases faced by women. It advocates equal inclusion of women in all walks of life.
Can the world run without women? Perhaps, everyone knows the answer to this; yet, the other half of the world’s population is still subjected to appalling inequality every day in many parts of the world. Things have changed drastically over the years and there are no hats that a woman can't wear. From entrepreneurs to professors to homemakers to astronauts, women are acing all the roles.
Why is Women’s Day Celebrated?
Women’s Day celebrates the women who had the courage to raise their voices against the inequality and atrocities that women were subjected to. It is to commemorate the unsung heroes of an ongoing revolution in society, bringing about change slowly and steadily, with each singular contribution making it even stronger and one step closer to its goal.
Chronological History of The Establishment of Women’s Day
The Sowing of The Seed
The movement started way back in 1848 when a few hundred people gathered for America’s first women’s rights convention in New York at the behest of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. They demanded equal rights for women in the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.
*The First Woman Teacher in India*
It was in the same year that on the other side of the globe, an Indian woman by the name of Savitribai Phule opened the first all-girls school in India and stepped into the role of a teacher for the first time, officially becoming the first woman teacher of India. She turned out to be one of the most influential women in the history of education and is considered one of the bravest contributors to women’s rights in India. Read more about her here.
The women who worked in the garment industry of New York City were employed at lower ranks and lower wages than their male counterparts; they were also subjected to sexual harassment. In February 1908, thousands of these women went on strike and took to the streets in the city to protest against dreadful working conditions and exploitation.
The first National Women’s Day was celebrated on February 28, 1909, which happened to be a Sunday, and the date was chosen to see increased participation of working women.
In 1910, Clara Zetkin, who was the Leader of the 'Women's Office' for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, proposed the idea of celebrating the same day as International Women's Day in every country. This suggestion received unanimous support and approval, and thus International Women's Day was promulgated.
Following this decision, International Women's Day was honored for the first time in the US and a few European countries like Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland on March 19, 1911. Almost one million people attended the Women's Day rallies and pressed for equal opportunities and rights for women. However, on March 25, the tragic 'Triangle Fire' incident in New York City took the lives of almost 140 working women. This heart-rending event exposed the hostile working conditions and put under public glare the labor legislation in the United States.
The Most Consequential Protest - The Fall of The Czar
Although the women’s labor movement in the U.S. had started in the early 1900s, it took a radical form in Russia in 1917. The Czar had been taking advantage of Russia’s people and growing rich off of them as the people in the country struggled with famine and drought. The socialist revolution was riding high, and the women, empowered by the slogans of communism, saw their chance for redemption. Set against the backdrop of a country exhausted by war, Russia faced unrest for a wide variety of reasons, hence escalating inequality. Women, who had the most impoverished existence in the country, started protesting in their own way, gathering protests and demonstrations reminiscent of the March 8 protests held on the other side of the world on International Women’s Day. It was held on February 23, 1917, on the Russian calendar. This sudden uprising on the side of the women upset not just the Tsar but also the male revolutionaries in the socialist movement. They thought of these women as disobedient as they were supposed to wait for the commands from revolutionary leaders until the annual worker’s protests on May 1.
However, much to their surprise, the protests that began on March 8 gathered a lot of momentum and led to mass strikes of inspired workers from all sectors who demanded fundamental human rights, better living conditions, and the end of autocracy. These demonstrations sparked the downfall of the Russian Czar and paved the way for socialism in 1922.
Russian women also secured the right to vote in 1917 due to the March protests. Moreover, Russia was the first significant power to enact legislation for equal rights for women, earlier than Britain and the United States. Other countries looked up to Russia as an example and held women’s liberation responsible for the country’s progress.
This signifies the date of the celebrations today.
Women’s Suffrage - A Civil Rights Butterfly Effect
Suffrage refers to the right to vote. Believe it or not, for the longest time in human history, women were not given the right to vote, even though they were citizens in the country. There are many instances where women are selectively given suffrage and then taken away. The first place in the world that offered women the right to vote and maintain it was the state of New Jersey in America in 1776. However, this right was revoked by the government so that only white men could vote. However, there is a long line of ‘firsts’ when it comes to women’s suffrage from this point to the Labour Movement in Russia. A short summary is listed below:
- The first province to allow women to vote over a continuous and consistent period of time was the Pitcairn Islands in 1838.
- The first sovereign nation to offer women the right to vote was Norway in 1913. This title would have gone to the Kingdom of Hawai'i, which already had universal suffrage by the year 1840, but it backed out on this position in 1852 and was later annexed by the United States in 1898.
- A large number of provinces held by the British and Russian empires started conferring women's voting rights by the year 1869, some of them becoming independent nations at a later point, such as Australia (1902), Finland (1906), and New Zealand (1893).
- In another part of the world, women who owned property were given the right to vote in the small country of Isle of Man (1881).
- In Australia, women who were white gained the right to vote between 1894 and 1911, with the right being officially conferred by 1902. However, the Aboriginal people were still not given voting rights.
- The Russian Grand Duchy of Finland (pre-independent Finland) offered women, for the first time in human history, the right to vote on racially-equal footing. People of all races and ethnicities were allowed to both vote as well as stand as candidates. This was in the year 1906.
Most Western countries gave women voting rights in the period after the Soviet Union did so, following their lead.
- Canada - 1917
- Britain - 1918
- Germany - 1918
- Austria - 1919
- The Netherlands - 1919
- The United States - 1920
Even after so many countries did so, a few European countries were still reluctant.
- France would not let women vote until 1944.
- Greece only allowed women to vote in local elections, and only in 1930. Equal voting rights for women came only much later in 1952.
- Switzerland gave their women the right to vote between 1959 and 1990, with the right to vote at the federal level given by as late as 1971.
With Saudi Arabia granting voting rights to women in 2015, women all over the world could vote in every country that held elections.
Recognition by The United Nations
The United Nations celebrated International Women’s Day for the first time in 1975. Every year, the celebrations have a theme around them. The theme of International Women’s Day 2022 is ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow'. With the current world order and a pandemic that changed the course of almost everything, we now understand that without gender equality, a better, hopeful, and sustainable future is all but a distant dream.
Famous Women’s Day Quotes
Before concluding, here are a few inspirational quotes by famous women from across the globe.
- No need to hurry, no need to sparkle, no need to be anybody but oneself. - Virginia Woolf
- I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse. - Florence Nightingale
- I’ve learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life. - Maya Angelou
- Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition. - Marilyn Monroe
- The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me. - Ayn Rand
- The most effective way to do it, is to do it. - Amelia Earhart
- Giving up doesn’t always mean you’re weak. Sometimes you’re just strong enough to let go. - Taylor Swift
- A feminist is a person who believes in the power of women just as much as they believe in the power of anyone else. It’s equality, it’s fairness, and I think it’s a great thing to be a part of. - Zendaya
- We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back - Malala Yousufzai
- In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders. - Sheryl Sandberg
Women are capable of so much more than what the world expects from them. For example, a study suggests that if women have the same access to productive resources, they could increase their farm yields and raise the total agricultural output in their countries by 2.5 to 4 percent; this would reduce the number of hungry people in the world by around 12 to 17 percent. Things are changing and women now have the opportunity to express themselves.
Let the world consider women as equal beings and celebrate them every day.