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ΑρχικήEnglish EditionInternational Women’s Day (March 8th): A historical retrospect and social viewpoint on...

International Women’s Day (March 8th): A historical retrospect and social viewpoint on women in society


By Konstantina Kerpinioti,

International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th every year and is a day of honor for women’s rights and achievements across the political, economic, social, and cultural spheres. It is a national holiday in numerous countries, and it has been sponsored by the United Nations (UN) in 1975. However, there is a huge story behind the beginning and the establishment of this specific day.

How International Women’s Day was “claimed” in New York and Russia

The beginning was made in February 1908 in New York City, when thousands of women who were garment workers went on strike and marched through the city to protest working conditions. Women then (as well as nowadays) faced serious difficulties in their workplace due to their degradation from the male gender. Specifically, they were in a lower position in the hierarchy and received much lower wages in comparison to men. Also, women usually experienced sexual harassment.

In honor of the anniversary of those strikes that lasted for more than a year, International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time in the US on February 28th, 1909, spearheaded by the Socialist Party of America.

The German campaigner and socialist Clara Zetkin was the guide of the idea to convert this day into an international movement, in order to support universal suffrage. The movement was established at the International Conference of Working Women in 1910. Zetkin was renowned as a passionate orator and advocator of working women’s rights.

Subsequently, International Women’s Day became even more revolutionary in Russia in 1917. When Zetkin’s idea was spreading through Europe, Russia (where International Women’s Day was established in 1913) was dealing with unrest for other reasons such as the lack of food because of the war that prevailed at that time. In that difficult climate, the nation’s International Women’s Day demonstration was held on February 23rd, 1917 — the equivalent of March 8th in the Russian calendar.

The roots of International Women’s Day are over a century old. In the picture, we see a march by tens of thousands of women that led to the downfall of the Russian empire. Image source: independent.co.uk

Although Russia was not the starting point for the women’s struggle, several differences have been pointed out between this protest, which took place in the then-capital St. Petersburg, and the previous ones. In particular, the historian and activist Rochelle Ruthchild of Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian studies maintained that: “Women were mostly the ones on the breadline and were the core protesters. In fact, male revolutionaries like Leon Trotsky were upset at them, as these disobedient and misbehaving women were going out on this International Women’s Day, when they meant to wait until May”, referring to the annual worker’s protests on May 1st.

The protests that commenced on March 8th were characterized by daily mass strikes of workers who demanded food, more and better rights, and the end of autocracy.

Through those protests, Russian women managed to acquire the right to vote in 1917. This conquest made Russia the first major power to enact suffrage legislation for women, a year earlier than Britain and three years earlier than the United States. Both the U.K. and the U.S. considered Russia to be an example they had to follow. Another important achievement of the 20th century is the creation of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom during World War I.

Nevertheless, because of the political associations with the Soviet Union and socialism amid increasing Cold War tensions, the U.S. did not give much importance to the celebration of International Women’s Day compared to other countries. The fact that an official UN day observance was only established in 1975 underlines this point and explains why the day is not as widely recognized in the US today as it is elsewhere.

Feminism and girl power concept. The idea of gender equality and the female movement. Image source: ivi-fertility.com

Women’s position in modern society and gender equality

The position of women has advanced considerably in modern society. Nowadays, women can make decisions on individual and social issues, such as the profession they want to pursue, their partner, and who they are going to vote for in the elections. Women also play an important role in politics and have contributed to significant scientific achievements. A typical example is Kamala Harris, who is the first female Vice President of the U.S. and was elected two years ago.

Nevertheless, we still have a long path to cross util we talk about real equality between the two “socially acceptable” genders. Some people may believe that the two sexes are faced equally; however, equality does not exist yet for many reasons, some of which I will analyze below.

To begin with, many women continue to be victims of rape and sexual harassment, both in and out of the workplace. Unfortunately, many individuals do not realize how traumatic an experience as such can be for the victim, and to what extent it can affect the rest of their life. The worst part is that a good amount of people (women, too) blame the victim for the woman’s clothing or for the fact that she was outside the house at an “inappropriate time”. The reason why this problem is perpetuated is that society wrongly focuses its attention on what the victim did to provoke the culprit and not on how the culprit will actually be punished, or what motivates them to behave in this way to others. A basic principle that should exist is that the victim is not at all to blame for the traumatic experience he went through. It is not a woman’s fault who works so as to be financially independent in a phallocratic society and is sexually harassed by her boss or someone superior to her in the workplace, trying to show his power in a way he thinks is right and appropriate.

Campaign for International Women’s Day in 2019 with the slogan “I define me. Women in their own words.”. Image source: socital.com

Every woman can have her personal style and go wherever and whenever she wants to go. In general, there is no excuse that permits a person to violate the privacy and dignity of another person in such a horrible way. As soon as a society realizes that the lack of education of some men (because not all men behave in such a vulgar way), in combination with the upbringing they receive from their home (some people have the wrong opinion on what being a man means) is the main cause of the problem, the situation will begin to improve dramatically. The #MeToo Movement, which provides women with the opportunity to talk about their traumatic experiences, is considered to be a good start for change. Let us not forget that in the past it was even more difficult for women to report such incidents. Nowadays, more and more women talk about their experiences, even though there are still some who find it difficult to share them.

Another reason that shows the degradation of women by men is female homicides. Every year, there are many incidents in which women are killed by their partners. Caroline and Garyfalia in Folegandros are only a few examples of female homicides in Greece. However, even in these cases that we are talking about murder, the victim is still to be blamed by some, because she might have raised her voice and provoked him with her words. Therefore, we can see that, even in the case of murder, in which human life is lost, some people still do not focus on the crime and its consequences and still think that the victim is responsible in some way for their death. The cause of all this is that some men faced women as tools and objects that exist only to obey them and fulfill their expectations and desires.

Finally, I am so glad that I finally wrote an article about women, because I was finally given the opportunity as a woman to express my worries and problems. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, I would like to say that I am really proud of everything that the female sex has achieved over time, at least in most countries, because there are places in the world where women have not evolved yet. However, I am wondering for how long women will be in danger. The enactment of harder laws is necessary, so as to protect and safeguard women’s rights and punish accordingly whoever violates them. The beginning has been made. Society as a whole is responsible for taking appropriate action to ensure that the two sexes, male and female (one step at a time, hopefully, we will soon not use the term “two sexes”) are treated equally.


References
  • International Women’s Day, britannica.com, Available here
  • The Radical Reason Why March 8 Is International Women’s Day, time.com, Available here

TA ΤΕΛΕΥΤΑΙΑ ΑΡΘΡΑ

Konstantina Kerpinioti
Konstantina Kerpinioti
She is an undergraduate student at the Department of English Language and Literature at the National Kapodistrian University of Athens. She likes chess, swimming, and travel shows. She is a social and adventurous person and a supporter of gender equality and human rights in general. Also, she is interested in being informed and expressing her opinion on social issues. In addition, she considers self-confidence to be the most attractive element in an individual’s personality. She is a nature lover, and she adores cats. Her motto is that if you try and fight hard, you can achieve anything you want — even the impossible.