Did you know that Tuesday (March 8th) was International Women’s Day? It seems to be recognised more in Eastern Europe than over here, and in Russia it is something of a big deal – celebrated as a national holiday.
It could be thought of as a hardcore version of our Mothers Day, an altogether more serious affair that puts the workplace on hold and acknowledges the role of women in (and out) of society, while at the same time highlighting the struggles and inequalities that they have faced (and still do) over time. As the name implies, the acknowledgement (and therefore the gift-giving) is towards all women, not mothers alone.
Unsurprisingly, the origins were political, and a perfect fit for the Communist ideals that would be realised soon after the IWD’s inception, which strangely enough occurred in New York on the 28th February 1909. No surprises though that it came into being at the behest of the American Socialist Party, who were inspired to recognise and celebrate an industrial strike held by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union that occurred a year earlier.
Of course, those were different times. In an early industrialised 20th Century, socialism would have looked more appealing to a blue-collar proletarian devoid of the workers rights and legal redress that is taken for granted today. We are post-McCarthy and beyond: into an age where America as a nation has been programmed to recoil in terror at any initiative that features the word “social” or “socialist”. The very concept is anathema to many.
Nonetheless, in that earlier era, the idea of a Women’s Day did indeed become international, spreading East to Europe and into Russia, where the day was first recognised in 1913. Four years later, demonstrations by St. Petersburg women to mark IWD and to strike for “bread and peace” led to the February Revolution, which saw Tsar Nicholas II step down from office and replaced by a provisional government.
This was the precursor to the October Revolution, and set the stage for takeover by the Bolsheviks. In recognition of its role – the spark that lit the fire – the incumbent Communist government made the day a holiday in 1918, although it only became a public holiday in 1965. The celebration became so ingrained in Russian society – and throughout other Soviet countries – that it survived the Communists that immortalised it and remains a fixture today.
Its popularity and message has subsequently been adopted by the UN throughout recent years to highlight an annual theme or cause pertinent to the struggle of women worldwide, whether against poverty, violence, discrimination in work and education, or other extant causes.