March 8, 2011 — The 100th Anniversary Of International Women’s Day

That’s right, this year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the first celebration of International Women’s Day, known here as Internationaler Frauentag.

These days, International Women’s Day is treated almost as a second Valentine’s Day, a time to smother your favorite gal with love, flowers or candy.

But the holiday actually began as a Socialist tradition and was even instrumental in ushering in Communism in early twentieth century Russia. With the fall of communism and the end of East Germany, International Women’s Day isn’t widely celebrated by Germans these days but this is the country where it all started.

Clara Zetkin, who was a leader in the Social Democratic Party in Germany, helped to bring it all about.

In Copenhagen at the second International Conference of Working Women, she spoke about the need for a special day to mark the struggles of women everywhere. This would be the day where, in each country, women could step forward and demand their equal rights, air any grievances and work together to make the world a better place for themselves. The other participants at the conference agreed unanimously and so, International Women’s Day was born.

March 19 was the day chosen for the first holiday, but it was March 25 that ended up as the day to remember. While the original holiday came and went without much fanfare, the tragedy that hit just six days after would do much more to illustrate the plight of women. On that day, a terrible fire broke out in New York City.

The “Triangle Fire” claimed the lives of more than 140 women workers, the majority of whom were poor immigrants of Jewish and Italian descent. Only in the face of such senseless loss did the squalid working conditions and deplorable labor practices come to light.

Later, in 1917, the holiday would again garner worldwide attention. This time, women were picketing for “bread and peace” in Russia, distraught over the high death toll of the First World War. The women’s strike was one nail in the coffin of imperial Russia, and soon the Bolsheviks seized on the moment to depose the tsar and begin the reign of Communism.

While this was less than ideal for the citizens who lived under the regime for more than seventy years, it shows the power that the holiday could command.

In modern times, the day is used for much more peaceful purposes, but still as a way to showcase wrongs and crimes against women. It is an official holiday in countries like China, Russia and Vietnam when men will give small gifts to their wives, mothers, female friends and colleagues.

So while these small gestures are always appreciated, there are larger issues that are still not resolved for the women of the world. This is a day to appreciate the women in your own life, while trying to make a better life for those all around the world.

—Marcus

 

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