7 Mar 2012 | No Comments | posted by Veronica Strong-Boag | in Activism, Africa, Asia, Causes, Central and South America, Democratic Deficit, Europe, Historical, Ideas, Middle East, North America, Oceania, Post Classifications, Regions
By the end of the 20th century, March 8th was globally celebrated as International Women’s Day or IWD. This recognition has slowly become more than a doff of the hat to the world’s women. It now serves as an inspirational call for sisterhood in action. Its origins date to 1910 when an International Women’s Conference associated with the Second Socialist International endorsed a special day of global recognition (following up a 1909 claim for a national day by the Socialist Party of America). Unlike Mothers’ Day, which originated in the United States in the mid-19th century to honour one aspect of women’s lives (though with the important but all too forgotten associated political message of peace), early IWD emphasized paid work. It too, however, likewise raised the possibility of a global sisterhood especially committed to non-violence. While sentimentalism and hypocrisy dog both days, all the more so as cultures have become increasingly commercialized, the call for ‘bread and roses’ supplies a permanent reminder of the necessity of both material support and individual respect. Early socialist champions such as the German Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) trusted that celebration would help ensure that specific tragedies such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City in 1911 and pervasive unfair wages, unhealthy work environments, and lack of recognition and opportunity would not be forgotten. When, after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, IWD became an official holiday in both countries, even if both largely failed to offer full equality, liberal democracies, not to mention dictatorships, shied away. To affirm women as workers and as global citizens seemed a radical step too far. The need for public recognition of women’s worth was not, however, forgotten. The rise of the second great feminist wave beginning in the 1960s brought demands for renewal. The United Nations, like the League of Nations before it, provided a critical site for assertions of women’s rights (notably the Convention on the Political Rights of Women in 1952, the Convention on the Nationality of Married Women in 1957, and the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages in 1962). Under UN auspices, Mexico City hosted the first World Conference on Women in 1975 and inaugurated International Women’s Year and the International Decade of Women (1976-85). The all-important Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women or CEDAW (1979) was a direct result. Nor was IWD forgotten. In 1977 the UN encouraged members to proclaim March 8th ‘the UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace’ (Wikipedia). The continuing linkage of women and peace suggests the persisting strength of the 19th century western views of female nature. (These of course co-exist along side older views of the Christian Church fathers, among others, which have been far more likely to credit women, all potential ‘Eves’, with particular capacity for violence rather than harmony.) For all the dangers of cultural ‘baggage’ that insists upon women’s special responsibility (nicely letting others off the hook) for ending conflict and human survival, IWD offers a critical moment to pause and reflect on justice and democracy, not to mention to celebrate the possibility of a sisterhood that acknowledges the differences of class, race, sexuality, and ability. No wonder, and all the more so in times of deepening exploitation and violence, the modern women’s movements and their allies embrace IWD for its promise of a fair deal and good times for all.
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