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International Women's Day-March 8

What is it?

The very first International Women’s Day was launched by Clara Zetkin on March 19, 1911, not on March 8. The date then was chosen because on the 10th of March, in the year of the 1848 revolution, the Prussian King recognized for the first time the strength of an armed people and gave way before the threat of a proletarian uprising.

Among the many promises he made—which he later failed to keep—was the introduction of votes for women. Plans for the first International Women’s Day demonstration were spread by word of mouth and in the press. Success of the first International Women’s Day in 1911 exceeded all expectations. Meetings were organized everywhere in small towns. Villages halls were packed so full that male workers were asked to give up their places for women. Men stayed at home with their children for a change, and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings.

During the largest street demonstration of 30,000 women, police decided to remove the demonstrators’ banners so the women workers made a stand. In the scuffle that followed, bloodshed was only barely averted.  In 1913, International Women’s Day was transferred to March 8 and this day has remained the global date for IWD ever since.

During international Women’s Year in 1975, it was given official recognition by the United Nations and taken up by many governments, including Canada, yet women still struggle for equality and human rights for women all over the world.

Some facts:

Little progress has been made on reducing maternal mortality rates. Every year, 536,000 women and girls die as a result of complications during pregnancy, childbirth or following delivery, the overwhelming majority in developing countries. Most of these complications are largely preventable and treatable.

Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic, with up to 70 per cent of women experiencing violence in their lifetime. The problem remains universal, with women and girls affected by violence in every region and every country.

Access to labour markets and to decent work remains limited for women. In 2008, an estimated 52.6 per cent of women were in the labour force, compared to 77.5 per cent of men. Women are more likely than men to have low-paid, low-status and vulnerable jobs, with limited or no social protection or basic rights.  A very high proportion of women in the labour force continue to work in unstable and exploitative employment.

Serious challenges persist to women’s full and equal participation in senior decision-making positions. These include negative stereotypes about women’s leadership roles and potential, a lack of commitment by political parties and men leaders, inadequate funding and training for women candidates and government officials, and discriminatory selection processes in all sectors and at all levels.

Women continue to be excluded from or seriously under-represented in peace negotiations, peace building and disarmament processes. Since 1992, women represented, on average, just 7.1 per cent of official delegation members, and only 2.1 per cent of signatures to peace agreements. To date, very few women have been formal mediators in these events.

Women continue to be responsible for most domestic and caregiving work. This unequal sharing of responsibilities negatively impacts their educational and employment opportunities, and limits their involvement in public life.

What can I do?

Coordinate and/or support International Women’s Day events in your community and educate and provide information to community members in your workplace, school, friends, family, or any other community space where you can.  Call your local women’s services or your local union if you are unsure of how to get involved in IWD activities.

Political will and leadership is critical for generating sustained action for gender equality and empowerment of women and girls, and for progress in development, peace, security and human rights. Insist that your government give priority attention to addressing the challenges faced by women. It is not enough to adopt laws and policies; they have to be effectively implemented.

Tell your elected representative to raise women’s awareness of their legal rights and allocate adequate resources to them, educate and train public officials and increase the share of budgets and of development assistance specifically dedicated to gender equity and human rights.

Each one of us needs to take a personal pledge to work toward abolishing the poverty, violence, and racism that have destroyed the lives of countless women. We all must hold our governments accountable for the impact of their policy decisions and examine their demoralizing impact on women—locally, provincially, nationally and globally.