By Laurence Pantin
Thursday, March 8, 2001
March 8, 1857: Women garment workers go on strike in New York to demand better working conditions. In 1910, socialists adopt March 8 as International Women's Day. Today it's about social, economic and political equity worldwide.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Around the world today women will be marking International Women's Day by marching, lobbying, going on strike, refusing to do housework, demanding pay equity, an end to violence against women, full reproductive rights--and justice.
International Women's Day "recognizes that women are over half of the population and need to be given the same rights as the other half," in our world of 6 billion, said Micol Zarb, media officer at the United Nations Development Fund for Women, UNIFEM.
International Women's Day is celebrated around the world, and in the United States it is part of Women's History Month.
It is a national holiday in Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, Kazakhstan, Laos, Romania, Russia, Uganda, Ukraine and several other countries. Elsewhere women celebrate by going on strike for equal wages, recognition of housework as valuable labor and women-friendly work policies.
In past years, Moroccan women have demanded equal rights in divorce, custody and other changes in the national family code. Kenyan women lawyers have protested female genital mutilation and argued that it should be grounds for asylum worldwide.
"I've seen women use this day as a day of solidarity and as a day of empowerment for women around the world," said Linda Posluszny, program associate at the Center for Women's Global Leadership, "and a day where women are really recognized for the contribution that they make to society."
Since 1975, the United Nations has been observing International Women's Day on March 8, a day to recognize that women's equality and active social and political participation are necessary elements for international peace, security and social progress. For the third consecutive year, the United Nations theme is "Women and Peace."
The background of International Women's Day goes back to March 8, 1857, when hundreds of women garment workers in New York went on strike and demonstrated against their sweatshop-like working conditions, long hours and low wages. It was one of the first protests organized by working women worldwide, and it was violently repressed by police.
The socialist movement then adopted International Women's Day at an international meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, in August 1910. It declared that one day would be dedicated to women worldwide to commemorate the 1857 New York strike.
Since then, women's groups worldwide have celebrated March 8 to honor and reflect on their struggle for social, economic and political equality.
"I think that we need to pause and remember and recognize how far women have come," said Molly Murphy MacGregor, executive director of the National Women's History Project, "and that it's because of other women that we have the kind of privileges and status that we have today."
International Women's Day has its critics: Richard F. Doyle, president of the Men's Defense Association, believes that International Women's Day shouldn't be celebrated, "especially under its present administration and philosophy," he said, because the implication is that "women are somehow more discriminated against than men."
"In actuality, Western women--the loudest complainers--are the most pampered creatures on earth," Doyle said in an e-mail interview, noting that International Men's Day has been celebrated too, several years ago, but attendance was poor because of scant media coverage. No Men's Day this year.
U.N. statistics from a special General Assembly Session, "Women 2000," describe the problems of unequal treatment:
"People need to be reminded that such things as rape, sexual harassment, poverty among single parent families, battery, and employment discrimination are still gender issues--still women's issues," said Julie Quinn, co-chair of the 2001 Gender Research Symposium, being held at the University of Calgary, Canada, from March 7 to 9 to celebrate International Women's Day.
"That is not to say that, for example, men are not raped--but that the majority of rape victims are women. It is women who have to think twice before walking home at night, crossing a dark parking lot."
Examples of International Women's Day activities:
Wages for Housework Campaign
Strikers in every country share some demands, such as payment of all caring work, pay equity, paid maternity leave and the cancellation of the Third World debt, says Phoebe Schellenberg, coordinator for the International Wages for Housework Campaign in Philadelphia. The strike has been joined, "particularly by women in Third World countries, who have really used the occasion and the power of it to press for demands where they are."
In Mexico City, the Defensoras Populares, or Popular Defenders, are asking women to go on strike or to refuse to do housework today, to ask for peace in Chiapas, where indigenous people have been demanding respect for human rights and autonomy.
In Tema, Ghana, in West Africa, women farmers, domestic workers and street children are performing a play about domestic workers' low pay. In Spain, the third largest national labor union is calling for a general strike for two hours. In Philadelphia, the National Organization for Women and the Coalition of Labor Union Women are organizing a two-hour lunch break for women against no pay and low pay as well as for pay equity.
Women Waging Peace
The United Nations Development Fund for Women, or UNIFEM, launches a Millennium Peace Prize for Women to honor women's efforts in building peace. This new prize rewards six individuals and international organizations for their contributions to peace-building. It acknowledges that women constitute less than 10 percent of Nobel Peace Prize winners and need to be recognized not just as victims of wars, but also as participants in their resolutions.
Women Run the News
The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, is launching its "Women Make the News" initiative this week. It calls on print, broadcast and electronic media worldwide to give women editors and journalists editorial responsibility for a full week.
Women's Enews participates in this initiative from March 5 to 11, as every day, since all our editors and many of our contributors are women.
Women Discussing Women
Conferences are also taking place all over the globe. The University of Calgary is holding its 2001 Gender Research Symposium, which discusses women's issues and encourages research into them. In New Jersey, the Center for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University will hold a panel discussion on Making Human Rights Work for Women on Friday, March 9.
Despite all the activities, one question persists: What happens tomorrow? Is one day enough to celebrate women?
"No, of course not," said Zorb, from UNIFEM. "I think that these days are just a symbolic reminder that we need to be thinking about these issues," she said. "But this is something that hopefully will become a part of everybody's daily life and daily practice."
"Hopefully one day," added Zorb, "there won't be a need to celebrate an International Women's Day because you're at a point where women and men are in a situation of equality."
Laurence Pantin is a writer based in New York.
For more information, visit the Emma Goldman Papers Project: http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Goldman/
A special daily feature during the month of March
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