The first week of March is always so intense for me. Not that there are no such other weeks during the year (family birthdays, new year’s, vacation preparations). Yet during the first week of March, everyone and anyone suddenly remembers us – women. Flowers are sold on improvised stalls of cardboard boxes on every corner, presents are bought and given, dinners organized and celebrated with music and dancing. TV shows are hosted with the sole topic of discussing women’s rights, gender equality, domestic violence, political participation of women, women’s economic advancement. The reason, as you might guess is March 8. Recognized as International Women’s Day, this observance celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
The day has been an official United Nations day for women’s rights and world peace since 1975. It’s a national holiday in many parts of the world, as it used to be in socialist Macedonia until the 90s.
The path to women’s equality, as history has revealed, is long and challenging. Different phases of the women’s movement provided an important focus in forging and moving the gender agenda further along.
In 1909, the Socialist Party of America celebrated 15,000 women who protested long work hours, low pay, and the lack of voting rights in New York City. However, it was Russia who unknowingly set the March 8 trend. Although International Women’s Day became an official holiday in Russia in 1913, women still faced challenges. While men went off to war, women dealt with food shortages and a government who wouldn’t listen to them. On March 8, 1917, tens of thousands of Russian women took to the streets demanding change. The unified cry for help paved the way for Soviet women to be granted voting rights soon after and indicates the significance of the date of the commemorations today. This is the period (late 1800’s and early 1900’s) when women activists fought for the right to vote and equal pay for equal work.
These two issues – women’s voices and participation in government and the gender pay gap – still remain priorities over a century later.
In western societies, the women’s movement is differentiated into four waves.
The second wave of feminism began in the 1960s and continued into the 90s, with sexuality and reproductive rights being dominant issues. In the 1980’s the focus was on an array of programs that assisted women in being more confident, visible, well-networked and assertive – but many of these reinforced a notion that women needed to “act like men” and “fit” into existing patriarchal structures and organizations if they were to succeed (while still being a superwoman in the home).