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International Woman's Day (IWD) is marked on March 8 every year. It is a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women.
Started as a political event, the holiday blended in the culture of many countries (primarily Russia and the countries of former Soviet bloc). In some celebrations, the day lost its political flavour, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love to the women around them in a way somewhat similar to Mother's Day and St Valentine's Day mixed together. In others, however, the political and human rights theme as designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.
The IWD is also celebrated as the first spring holiday, as in the listed countries the first day of March is considered the first day of the spring season.
The first IWD was observed on 28 February 1909 in the United States following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. Among other relevant historic events, it came to commemorate the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The idea of having an international women's day was first put forward at the turn of the 20th century amid rapid world industrialization and economic expansion that led to protests over working conditions. By urban legend, women from clothing and textile factories staged one such protest on 8 March 1857 in New York City. The garment workers were protesting against very poor working conditions and low wages. The protesters were attacked and dispersed by police. These women established their first labor union in the same month two years later.
More protests followed on 8 March in subsequent years, most notably in 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. In 1910 the first international women's conference was held in Copenhagen (in the labour-movement building located at Jagtvej 69, which until recently housed Ungdomshuset) by the Second International and an 'International Women's Day' was established, which was submitted by the important German Socialist Clara Zetkin, although no date was specified. The following year, 1911, IWD was marked by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, on March 19. However, soon thereafter, on March 25, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City killed over 140 garment workers. A lack of safety measures was blamed for the high death toll. Furthermore, on the eve of World War I, women across Europe held peace rallies on 8 March 1913. In the West, International Women's Day was commemorated during the 1910s and 1920s, but dwindled. It was revived by the rise of feminism in the 1960s.
Demonstrations marking International Women's Day in Russia proved to be the first stage of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik feminist Alexandra Kollontai persuaded Lenin to make it an official holiday in the Soviet Union, and it was established, but was a working day until 1965. On May 8, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women's Day was declared as a non working day in the USSR "in commemoration of outstanding merits of the Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Motherland during the Great Patriotic War, their heroism and selflessness at the front and in rear, and also marking the big contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples and struggle for the peace. But still women's day must be celebrated as many other days."
2009 International Women's Day
On occasion of 2009 International Women's Day the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned that the specific health-care needs of women are often ignored or insufficiently taken into account in war situations.
In the world’s least developed countries, many of which are at war, women are 300 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications than in developed countries, according to UNICEF. While armed conflicts and other violence affect entire communities, women are particularly at risk of rape and other forms of sexual violence. Because of poor security conditions or because they have no means of transportation, it is often impossible for women to reach a health-care facility so as to give birth safely.
Women's Day in modern culture
The 1932 Soviet poster dedicated to the 8th of March holiday. The text reads: "8th of March is the day of the rebellion of the working women against the kitchen slavery" and "Down with the oppression and narrow-mindedness of the household work!". Originally in the USSR the holiday had a clear political character, emphasizing the role of the Soviet state in liberation of women from the second-class citizens' position.
However, with time the meaning of the Holiday evolved to an apolitical celebration of women with an emphasis on their beauty and motherhood. Most late Soviet 8th of March postcards carried no political meaning.
The day is an official holiday in Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Croatia, Georgia, Italy, Israel, Laos, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zambia, and is observed by men giving the women in their lives - mothers, wives, girlfriends, daughters, colleagues, etc., flowers and small gifts. In some countries (such as Romania) it is also observed as an equivalent of Mother's Day, where children also give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union celebrations of IWD were abandoned in Armenia. Instead April 7 was introduced as state holiday of ‘Beauty and Motherhood.’ The new holiday immediately got popular among Armenians, as it commemorates one of the main holidays of Armenian Church, Annunciation. However, people still kept celebrating IWD on March 8 as well. Public discussion held on the topic of two ‘Women’s Days’ in Armenia resulted in the recognition of the so called ‘Women’s Month’ which is the period between March 8 and April 7.
In Italy, to celebrate the day, men give yellow mimosas to women. Yellow mimosas and chocolate are also one of the most common March 8 presents in Russia.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Serbia the custom of giving women flowers still prevails. Women sometimes get gifts from their employers too. School children often bring gifts for their teachers as well.
In countries like Portugal and Romania, it is usual, at the night of 8 March, groups of women celebrate in "women-only" dinners and parties.
In India, IWD holds a lot of significance. Many celebrations are held during the day. This portrays the power of women in the modern era and how vital their role is in the society.
In Pakistan working women in formal and informal sectors celebrate International Women's Day every year to commemorate their ongoing struggle for due rights, despite facing many cultural and religious restrictions. Some women working for change in society use IWM to help the movement for women's rights.
In 1975, which had been designated as International Women’s Year, the United Nations gave official sanction to and began sponsoring International Women's Day.
The 2005 Congress (conference) of the British Trades Union Congress overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for IWD to be designated a public holiday in the United Kingdom.
International Women's Day encountered violence in Tehran, Iran on March 4, 2007, when police beat hundreds of men and women who were planning a rally. Police arrested dozens of women and some were released after several days of solitary confinement and interrogation. Shadi Sadr and Mahbubeh Abbasgholizadeh, and several more community activists, were released on March 19th 2007, ending a fifteen day hunger strike.
Today many events are held by women's groups around the world. The global women's organization Aurora hosts a free worldwide register of IWD local events (www.internationalwomensday.com) so that women and the media can locate local activity. Many governments and organizations around the world support IWD. For example, HSBC hosts a range of IWD activity including co-hosting of the United Kingdom's flagship IWD event with women's group Aurora. Global interest in IWD shows a steady increase.
In some isolated cases International Women's Day has been led to questionable practices that effectively discriminated against men. For example Tower Hamlets Council closed off one of its libraries to all males to "celebrate" the occasion forcing them to travel elsewhere, going as far as even banning male staff from the premises.
In the Czech Republic (then part of Czechoslovak Socialist Republic), huge Soviet style celebrations were held annually. After the fall of Communism, the holiday, generally considered to be one of the major symbols of the old regime, fell into obscurity. International Women’s Day was re-established as an official "important day" by the Parliament only recently, on the proposal of the Socialists and Communists. This has provoked some controversy as a large part of public as well as the political right see the holiday as a relic of the nation’s Communist past. In 2008, the conservative Catholic People’s party’s deputies proposed abolishment of the holiday unsuccessfully. However, some non-government organizations consider International Women’s Day’s official recognition as an important reminder of the women’s role in the society. Still, unlike in the past, the holiday is no longer observed by the general public in any significant way.