March 8th marks International Women’s Day—a day that celebrates women and their achievements. Rooted in political protest and action, it was born from Socialism, as the first National Women’s Day was held in New York on February 28th, 1909, by the Socialist Party of America in order to protest unjust working conditions. From there, the Socialist International decided to continue the celebration to honour women’s rights and promote universal suffrage. International Women’s Day was officially celebrated for the first time on March 19th, 1911, in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland—with more than one million male and female attendees; during the rally, the participants demanded for women’s right to vote, hold public office, work, and to end job-based discrimination. The celebration even became a way to protest World War I, as women stood in solidarity against the war. On March 8th, 1917, protesting for “Bread and Peace,” Russian women were able to obtain the right to vote only four days later. In the following years, International Women’s Day became marked annually on March 8th. Check out Carly’s article for a more in-depth history!
While it’s rooted deeply in politics and women’s rights, different countries celebrate the occasion differently—some choose to highlight women’s political contributions and achievements as well as ongoing challenges, while others choose to separate the day from politics and focus on showing love to women. Some others do not celebrate the day at all. Here are just a few of the different ways certain countries choose to celebrate the day.
In Canada and most of the west, International Women’s Day is closely tied to politics. According to the government’s website, it “is an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of women and renew our efforts in achieving gender equality.” This day opens up a dialogue about women’s achievements, as well as ongoing struggles, in the hopes that action can be brought about for a better future.
Much like its neighbour, America celebrates International Women’s Day in a political manner. Though it is mostly celebrated modestly, in 2011 President Barack Obama called Americans to mark the day by reflecting on women’s accomplishments and their role in shaping the country’s history. Many people, especially online, seem to mark the day by engaging in a global conversation on women’s rights.
During the Soviet Union, women were celebrated for their role in the creation of the USSR. However, in modern Russia, it is free of all its political meanings and is a day that cherishes and shows appreciation towards women in daily life. Husbands bring home flowers for their wives and daughters, boyfriends treat their girlfriends, and usually a nice family meal is cooked and enjoyed together.
4. South Africa
Women’s Day is celebrated on August 9th in South Africa, as a public holiday that celebrates women “in society’s contribution to achieving freedom.” At the time, the country had proposed “pass laws” which required those defined as “black” to carry an internal passport (pass) which “infringed on their freedom of movement,” with the aim of controlling migration and urbanization. Around 20 000 women protested against this pass law and peacefully marched to the Union Building, where they stood together in silence. A song was also composed to commemorate the occasion titled “Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’ imbokodo”—“now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.”
In India, Women’s Day is also a day to highlight women’s achievements and accomplishments, as well as a time to look at issues still facing women that need to be solved. Many participate in activities such as rallies and seminars, and several organizations are “working towards girl child education, eradication of dowry culture and reservation of seats for women in local panchayats” which have all helped in the quest for equality.
China is another country in which Women’s Day has no political association. Rather, it is an occasion similar to Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day—a day to show love and celebrate women. Like in Russia, it’s not uncommon to receive gifts from loved ones during this day, and it’s also a good time for companies to offer special sales targeted at women. Interestingly, Chinese university students have also created a Girl’s Day (celebrated on March 7th), which involves various events on campus. Schools host makeup and dancing competitions, and some students use it as an occasion to express love to someone they admire.
The United Arab Emirates celebrated the Emirati Women’s Day on August 28, 2017, which marked the third of its kind. Though the date is different, the day is a special occasion to celebrate the various accomplishments of Emirati women and their contributions in developing and advancing the country. In 2017, more Emirati women were enrolled in school than men, they occupied 66% of government jobs, and they made up a body of around 23 000 businesswomen. The day supports and recognizes women for their hard work.
In contrast to these ideas, a number of people believe Women’s Day is patronizing towards men—after all, if women have a day to themselves, why shouldn’t men? The topic of gender equality is still very prevalent and continuously debated in society today. Regardless of where you stand, Women’s Day is a nice opportunity to show appreciation for women you love in your life. Some may choose to highlight accomplishments and issues, some may choose to give gifts, and some may choose to ignore the occasion altogether. Ultimately, when it comes to showing appreciation or igniting conversations on political issues, there is never a right time—every day is an opportunity to do so.