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International Women's Day - 8th March 2013

By Michael Evans - 08 Mar 2013 10:39:0 GMT
International Women's Day - 8th March 2013

International Women's Day 2013; Credit: © Shutterstock

It was during the period before The Great War when the booming population growth of the industrialised world saw a rise in radical ideologies. There was great unrest and critical debate among women. Women felt oppressed and the inequality between the sexes was spurring them to become more vocal and active in their campaign for change.

Women were pressing to be allowed to vote and in Britain this led to the size of the Suffragette movement. The male argument against women voters this was that women were too emotional and could not think as logically as men. The Suffragettes set out to refute this by making attention-grabbing protests. In the period between 1906 and 1914 approximately a thousand predominantly upper and middle class women were imprisoned, mainly for public order offences or failure to pay fines.

While in Britain much of the attention was focused on the suffrage movement, in the US it was women in the workforce who were much more vocal. In 1908, 18,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours and better pay, in addition to voting rights.

The Socialist Party of America adopted the cause and on Sunday 28th February 1909 a National Women's Day was observed across the United States. This observance continued in the US on the last Sunday in February until 1913.

In 1910, at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, 100 women from 17 countries pressed for a set day each year to celebrate an international Woman's Day.

On 19th March 1911, in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland rallies were held campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and to end discrimination, but in the US the day continued to be celebrated on the last Sunday in February.

In 1913 Russian women became involved and the day became global for the first time. Following discussions it was decided that 8thMarch should be the day of worldwide celebration and so it has remained. As a result 2013 sees the hundredth anniversary of the first truly International Women's Day.

After 1917, following the Soviet Revolution, the day was adopted as a holiday predominantly in communist and socialist countries. For instance it was celebrated by Chinese communists from 1922 and after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, 8th March was made an official holiday with women in China being given a half-day off.

1975 was designated International Women's Year by the United Nations and International Women's Day took on a greater significance, leading the UN General Assembly to invite member states to proclaim 8thMarch as the UN day for women's rights and world peace.

The 8th March is now an official holiday in nearly 30 countries and in many cases it is seen as the day when men honour their mothers, wives, girlfriends and female colleagues with flowers and small gifts.

The importance of the day continues to grow and every year the day is celebrated in more and more countries around the world. In 2012 the UN theme for the day was "Empower Women - End Hunger and Poverty". In the same year the International Committee of the Red Cross chose the day to highlight the problems faced by mothers and wives of people who had gone missing during armed conflict.

This year the UN theme for the day is "A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women", while the International Women's Day Theme for the Year 2013 is "The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum".

In the hundred years since the first truly International Women's Day, great progress has been made with respect to the rights of women. In most countries it is now accepted without question that women have the right to vote, to hold office and essentially to be able to do just about everything that a man can do.

Although women now hold high government office, have been into space, piloted aircraft, captained passenger liners, fought alongside men in the military forces, areas of discrimination still remain.

In addition to honouring the worldwide contribution that women make to our society, International Women's Day gives us the chance to highlight those areas that still need to be addressed.

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