Last Monday, March 8, was International Women’s Day; in the now larger Women’s History Month, I think it is important that we recognize the who, what, when, where and why behind the holiday.
National Women’s Day was first celebrated on Feb. 28 in 1909. It was celebrated in New York City and was organized by the Socialist Party of America at the suggestion of Ukrainian-American labor activist, suffragist and educator Theresa Malkiel. Following the example of American socialists, European socialists primarily in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, celebrated the now International Women’s Day on March 19, 1911. In the following years, the holiday was celebrated in late February and early March in different parts of the world. This changed on March 8, 1917, when women textile workers in Petrograd, modern-day St. Petersburg, held demonstrations demanding “Bread and Peace.” This marked the beginning of the Russian Revolution, and after gaining power, the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin made International Women’s Day an official holiday of the Soviet Union. The day chosen to celebrate it was March 8, in memory of the women textile workers. The Soviet Union was the first country to officially recognize the holiday, and it was predominately celebrated by communist countries worldwide until 1967. In 1967, International Women’s Day was adopted by second-wave feminists, returning the holiday to the West. The United Nations celebrated for the first time in 1975 and asked member states in 1977 to officially recognize the holiday as a U.N. holiday.
International Women’s Day is a holiday that has its roots in fighting for women’s equality, better working conditions, medical care and voting rights. In today’s world, we have seen International Women’s Day co-opted by capitalism and the corporations of the world. International Women’s Day has been and always should be about fighting for women and the working class and against capitalism and corporations who oppress and exploit women and workers worldwide. If the forces of capitalism are allowed to seize control of the narrative of International Women’s Day, the values and causes that inspired the holiday in the first place risk being sacrificed and lost. We cannot afford to have that happen.