History of International Women's Day

International Women's Day has a rich and radical history which is inextricably linked with the labour movement.

The first International Women’s Day took place on 19 March 1911, following a motion which was unanimously passed the previous year at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen by its 100 female delegates from 17 countries.

In 1913 the date for International Women’s Day was changed to 8 March, which was curiously prophetic given that on 8 March 1917 female textile workers in Saint Petersburg (then named Petrograd) began to strike for “Bread and Peace” triggering the Russian Revolution and a shift in the labour landscape and rights for all, including women’s right to vote.

The first International Women’s Day in Australia was informally celebrated in 1928 with a rally on the Sydney Domain, once again led by women in the labour movement with demands for equal pay for equal work, an 8 hour day, no piece work and paid annual leave. The following year an International Women’s Day rally was organised in Sydney's Belmore Park in support of the wives and families of striking timber workers.

The United Nations celebrated International Women’s Year in 1975 and formally proclaimed March 8 as International Women’s Day during the renewed spotlight on inequality brought by the second-wave of the feminist movement. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions. In adopting its resolution, the General Assembly recognised the role of women in peace efforts and development and urged an end to discrimination and an increase of support for women's full and equal participation.

The theme of International Women’s Day in 2018 is #PressforProgress which is consistent with the history of the day marking ongoing struggle as well as celebration. The revolutionary women of 1917 calling for “Bread and Peace” may look a little different in 2018, but inequality persists: pay inequity; the under-representation of women in many industries including politics, business and STEM; the disproportionate amount of unpaid labour performed by women in the domestic sphere; the unique struggles of women who experience intersecting oppressions; and ongoing violence against women.

It is worth remembering that International Women’s Day has radical origins in the labour movement as we celebrate the day, pause to reflect on how far we have travelled and continue to campaign for women’s equality in 2018 and beyond.

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