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How March 8 became International Women’s Day

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Written by: María Cristina Pacheco Alcalá, Project Coordinator, Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network

March 8th marks International Women’s Day, a date remembered by women’s movements that, for decades, have advocated for equality and human rights. Many events have taken place over the years to recognize the importance of International Women’s Day and the defense of women’s rights.

Toward the end of the 19th century, women who worked in textile factories in the United States and many other parts of the world worked 12 hours a day with minimal pay and work conditions that were harmful to their health and security. On March 8, 1858, a group of women took to the streets demanding their rights, but were attacked by police for it. Then, in March of 1908, more than 15,000 women factory workers mobilized to protest in New York City, yelling, “Bread and Roses!” which summarized their demands for a salary increase (bread) and better living conditions (roses). That same year, more than 140 young women burned to death in different textile factories where they were working under inhumane conditions.

During the Second International Socialist Women’s Conference, which took place in Copenhagen in 1910, Clara Zetkin, of Germany, petitioned for March 8 to be recognized as International Women’s Day as a tribute to the women who first organized actions to protest the exploitation of women workers. Her appeal promoted the day’s commemoration worldwide. According to historian Isabel Álvarez González, “When the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911, more than one million women publicly participated. In addition to the right to vote and to occupy public positions, they also demanded their right to work, vocational training, and to ending labor discrimination”[1].

Decades later, in 1975, the United Nations Organization decreed March 8 as International Women’s Day, in recognition of the demands that hundreds of women had made at the start of the 20th century and other future significant achievements such as women’s right to vote. March 8 is also a day to remember that women are still fighting for their rights in areas such as equality in employment opportunities, equal pay for equal work, reasonable working hours, better living and working conditions, and sexual and reproductive rights.

Today, again, we are commemorating March 8, a date to remember our ancestors’ efforts and to reflect on the achievements and work that still needs to be done. We invite you to reflect on the work you are currently doing to promote gender equality, and how we can recognize our differences in order to be able to contribute in strategic development that advance equal opportunities. We all have a right to better and more plentiful development opportunities, and to a life free of violence.

[1] Álvarez González, Ana I. (1999). Los orígenes y la celebración del Día Internacional de la Mujer (The Origins and Celebration of International Women’s Day), 1910-1945. KRK-Ediciones: Oviedo.

References:

Scott, Joan W. (1993). La mujer trabajadora en el siglo XIX. Capítulo del Libro: Historias de las Mujeres en Occidente (The Working Woman in the XIX Century. Chapter from the Book: Histories of Women from the West), George Duby. http://www.fhuc.unl.edu.ar/olimphistoria/paginas/manual_2009/docentes/modulo1/texto3.pdf

United Nations, March 8th http://www.un.org/es/events/womensday/history.shtml

Portugal, Ana María. 8 de marzo (March 8th) (2014) http://www.oei.es/historico/noticias/spip.php?article2163

Álvarez González, Ana I. (1999). Los orígenes y la celebración del Día Internacional de la Mujer (The Origins and Celebration of International Women’s Day), 1910-1945. KRK-Ediciones: Oviedo.

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