(CTN News) – On March 8, we celebrate the 112th International Women’s Day (IWD). Women in Italy can expect mimosa flowers, while in Russia they can expect bouquets of tulips, while online #EmbraceEquity is certain to trend.
Despite its commercialization and corporatization (and some criticism), International Workers’ Day actually has roots in radical socialist politics. Labor movements emerged around the turn of the 20th century in Europe and North America.
The majority of countries that celebrate March 8 as a national holiday are not Western countries, in large part due to IWD’s ideologically charged origins.
The origins of International Women’s Day can be traced to the socialist movement
As early as the turn of the century, New York City was a hotbed for organized labor activity. About 15,000 garment workers protested poor working conditions and low wages in 1908. This event set the stage for the first National Women’s Day, which was organized by the Socialist Party of America on February 28, 1909.
Clara Zetkin, a German feminist and communist, attended the Socialist International Women’s Day meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1910, inspired by New York’s socialist movement. She proposed that an International Women’s Day be established.
It was held the following year on March 19, 1911, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Paris Commune, a revolutionary government that briefly seized power in France. In Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland, approximately 1 million people held rallies in support of equal rights for women to work, to vote, and to run for office.
Women textile workers staged a protest in Petrograd in 1917, demanding “bread and peace.” This protest ignited the Russian Revolution and led to the forced abdication of Czar Nicholas II.
Lenin marked the fateful day of protest on February 13 as a way of commemorating the event. This holiday falls on March 23 on the Julian calendar or March 8 on the Gregorian calendar.
It was not until 1975 that the United Nations recognized this holiday, which was intended to recognize women’s accomplishments and to draw attention to gender equity gaps.
Is there a reason why International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th?
Besides this story, which may be apocryphal, there is another explanation for why Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8. In 1857, female garment and textile workers in New York City staged a protest to demand higher wages, better working conditions, and equal rights.
However, historians have not been able to verify (link in French) whether this protest actually took place. Some believe that the protest might have been fabricated during the Cold War in order to remove the holiday’s link to Soviet Bolshevism.
Is International Women’s Day observed as a public holiday in your country?
IWD is recognized as a public holiday in more than 25 countries, according to the official IWD website. Below is a map that still bears the marks of Cold War-era politics.
Despite the fact that Germany as a whole has not recognized the day as a public holiday, Berlin has done so since 2019. There is no public holiday in China either, but employers are encouraged to give women a half-day off.