How will you be marking the 2016 International Women’s Day on 8 March?
This celebration day was first inaugurated in the United States of America on 28 February 1909. Its roots lay in the labour movements of Europe and North America, but now it takes the form of global events which signify the unity of women as a gender. It ignores divisions between women, be they racial, political, ethic, religious, linguistic or economic.
During the First World War (1914-1918), the practice of observing International Women’s Day took on a formal pattern and was used by pacifists as a mechanism for protesting against the war. In the last days of the Tsarist Empire in Russia, women took to the streets, striking from their labour, to protest about the price of bread. This happened on 28 February, 1917 (8 March in the Gregorian calendar then in use in Russia). The Tsar abdicated a few days after the protest took place and the new Provisional Government in Russia granted women the vote.
In 1945, the United Nations Charter was the first document to set the principle for equality between women and men worldwide. It was in 1975, during International Women’s Year, that the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March. Over the years, the United Nations (UN) and its technical agencies have promoted the participation of women as equal partners with men in achieving sustainable development, peace, security, and full respect for human rights. The empowerment of women continues to be a central feature of the UN’s efforts to address social, economic and political challenges across the globe.
Some forty years earlier in the UK, Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the militant suffragettes, argued for votes for women to secure the principle of gender equality between women and men in both the social and political context. Mrs Pankhurst wrote in her autobiography, ‘My Own Story’ (1914), that “We resolved… to limit our membership exclusively to women… and to be satisfied with nothing but action on our question. Deeds, not words, was to be our permanent motto.” Neither background, wealth or political persuasion exempted women from membership of the Women’s Social and Political Union – the organisation Pankhurst founded at her home in Manchester in October 1903. The women who campaigned for the vote in Britain from the perspective of the militants saw themselves, in Mrs Pankhurst’s words, as ‘a suffrage army in the field’. While the pacifists might not have appreciated her military analogy, many, such as her daughter Sylvia, did uphold pacifist perspectives.
“Neither background, wealth or political persuasion exempted women from membership of the Women’s Social and Political Union”
In contemporary times, the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58/2014) – the annual gathering of nation states to consider issues specifically related to gender equality and women’s rights — focused on ‘Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls’. UN entities and accredited NGOs from around the world took stock of progress and remaining challenges towards meeting the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs have played an important role in galvanising attention on and resources for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Women need to consider how they, as individuals, can help raise awareness of the importance of working to achieve gender equality and women’s parity. Is there an event organised near you which you could support? Local to me, the University of Chichester at its Bognor Regis Campus, is hosting an event by the Confident Women’s Academy on 8 March 2016, from 9.30am – 2.30pm. Details of the event, entitled ‘How She Got It Done’ – details of how to book can be found on the Confident Women’s Academy website.
Dr Maureen Wright
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