INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
Women’s History Month is a time to learn about the influential women who paved the way for future generations. On March 8, 1857 in New York City garment workers picketed for improved working conditions, a ten hour work day, and equitable pay.
Forty-one years later on March 8, 1910, 15,000 women marched through the streets of New York once again demanding shorter work days, better pay, and voting rights.¹ That same year at a conference in Copenhagen a German socialist, Clara Zetkin, suggested that in com-memoration of the garment workers strike, March 8 should be declared International Women’s Day.²
It has never been a major observance. In fact, most people have never heard of it. In 1975 during the United Nations’ International Women’s Year Conference it was decided to make March 8th an annual celebration. Two years later on December 16, 1977 the UN General Assembly passed resolution encouraging member countries to participate. ³ Since the 1975 conference the UN has held several World Conferences for Women. The most notable was the 1995 conference in Beijing. During the conference it “declared a set of goals for progress of women in various areas including politics, health, and education.”⁴ This declaration was known as the “Platform for Action.”
In 2000 the UN issued a report noting the progress made since the 1995 conference. The UN has made International Women’s Day a worldwide day to honor the achievements in gender equality, peace and security, and political participation. March 8 is observed as an official holiday in 28 countries. In some places the women are given flowers or small gifts.
Until 1975 the United States paid very little attention to International Women’s Day. Each year someone in the House of Representatives makes a statement acknowledging the March 8th observance. In 1977 then Representative Barbara Mikulski paid tribute to the 120th anniversary of the 1857 garment worker’s strike in her March 8th remarks. “That day in 1857 these courageous, exploited women marched to demonstrate against their impoverished working conditions and demanded equality for all working women.” ⁵
In 2007 The Department of State initiated the International Women of Courage Award to honor women who have played a significant role in peace making around the world. The women are recommended by the embassies and eight to ten are chosen to receive the award on March 8 (or another day in early March). This year’s event is March 5th.
International Women’s Day may never be a major holiday in the U.S., but it is important to rec-ognize the advancements made by women since March 8, 1857. It can be summed up in this quote by Mahatma Gandhi.
“ Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to partici-pate in the minutest details in the activities of man, and she has an equal right of freedom and liberty with him.”⁶
¹New World Encyclopedia—http://newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/International_Women%27s_Day
⁴Supra note 1.
⁵123 Cong. Rec. 6770 (March 8, 1977)
⁶The Official Mahatma Gandhi eArchive—http://www.mahatma.org.in/mahatma/quotes/quotes.jsp?link=qt