Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is Press for Progress. The event is celebrated every year on March 8 to commemorates the movement for women’s rights.
This morning I learned a very interesting fact which was that the earliest Women’s Day observance, called “National Woman’s Day,” was held on February 28, 1909 in New York. It was organized by the Socialist Party of America at the suggestion of Theresa Malkiel. An American labor activist, suffragist, and educator, Theresa was a woman of progress, as she made history as the first woman to rise from factory work to leadership in the Socialist party. She was a Jewish woman and refugee who fled anti-Semitic violence in Russia. Eighteen years later, she founded Women’s Day, the forerunner of International Women’s Day. Read more about her story here.
Why is International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8? After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 the State Council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off. The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day in the International Women’s Year, 1975. Two years later, in 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.
What is the purpose for IWD? According to an article in the Mirror, the aim was for women to have equal pay. It’s still an issue so the day is still being held every year.
Women earn 14% less than men in the UK. Last year the #MeToo campaign also grew in momentum, after women started to speak out about sexual harassment.
The women who spoke out are known as The Silence Breakers and they were named Time’s Person of the Year.
International Women’s Day is an official holiday in many countries including Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.
Originally the colors used for International Women’s Day were purple for symbolizing women, green for hope and white for purity. White is no longer used because of purity being a controversial concept. Yellow was introduced symbolizing a “new dawn”. So, now green is for traditional feminism and purple with yellow represent contemporary feminism.
Today, women were on center stage and the world watched as they protested and celebrated. And in Canada, a family, Canadians and people of color celebrated as the ten dollar bill featuring Viola Desmond, the first black woman was unveiled today.
Viola Desmond was a Canadian black woman from the province of Nova Scotia who challenged racial segregation at a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946 when she refused to leave a whites only area and was convicted of a minor tax violation for the one cent tax difference between the seat she paid for and the seat she used. Her case is one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Canadian history and helped start the modern civil rights movement in Canada. She has been compared to Rosa Parks as both women, uncompromising in their stance against racism gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement.
Progress has been made in the fight for women’s rights but we still have a long way to go. In the mean time, let’s women around the world continue to raise their voices in order to be heard and to “bring attention to the most critical issues facing our communities, and our world at large” (Rep. Jeannie McDaniel).