International Women's Day

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by Jen Marchbank

In 1975, at the beginning of the United Nations’ International Year of Women, the UN began their practice of celebrating women and girls on March 8th. For the UN celebrating IWD is an opportunity to highlight the importance of every woman and girl being able to exercise real choices in relation to her actions and opportunities; from participating in her communities and politics to being able to live in a society free from violence and discrimination. 

Yet, did you know that IWD’s history is much longer than four decades? The earliest event was held in New York in 1909 (28th February) and was organised by the Socialist Party of America as a commemoration of the previous year’s strike of the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union.  Inspired by this, in 1910 German Socialist Luise Zietz, supported by later Communist leader Clara Zetkin, proposed that women should hold annual celebrations at an International Women’s Conference in Copenhagen. The 100 delegates from 17 countries supported the idea as they saw it as a means to promote equal rights and women’s suffrage. So, on March 19, 1911 IWD was marked by women and men across Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and the Austro-Hungarian empire.  Estimates state that over a million people were involved.

So, why do we celebrate on March 8th? That’s a good question, especially as all of the other marches and protests were not held on March 8th.  Well, one theory is that in 1914 IWD March, 8th was chosen as it was a Sunday and most people would be free. In Germany the focus was on women’s right to vote (not won until 1918) and in London (UK) women also marched for the vote, with Women’s Social and Political union leader, Emmeline Pankhurst getting arrested on her way to speak at Trafalgar Square. After that the date stuck.

In Russia, in 1917, IWD demonstrations held on the last Thursday in February (which was March 8 on the Gregorian calendar) sparked the February Revolution when workers left their factories in support of women’s calls in St Petersburg for an end to war, end to the Tsar and for ‘bread and peace’. It was later made an official Soviet holiday. Following this IWD became popular mostly in Communist and Socialist societies, only really becoming popular in the West after the UN proclaimed March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.

So, come and join us as we celebrate women on March 4th, at City Hall Surrey. 

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