Brief history of International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day first emerged from the activities of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe. The earliest Women’s Day observance was held on February 28, 1909, in New York. It was organized by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. There was no specific strike happening on March 8, despite later claims.

Since those early years, International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women’s movement has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas. Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

In 1910 the Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, established a Women’s Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women’s rights and to build support for achieving universal suffrage for women. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries. Throughout the century women from various progressive countries and under progressive unions and parties used this day to rally support for their struggles and highlight the plight of women.

The WFTU after its formation in 1945 became the political centre of the women struggles. The International Women’s Federation and all its allied forces around the globe had thematic rallies in particular focused to countries still fighting against colonialism at the time. Our own women in 1956 influenced by our own internal struggle against apartheid with the knowledge that other women around the world are standing in solidarity embarked on what was to later be marked as national women’s day on August 8th.

As a result of the Copenhagen initiative, International Women’s Day was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded women’s rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.

In 1975 when the UN declared International women’s year, the day has since been observed on 8th March. As a result of dying political activism, the day is losing its significance slowly assuming the same status as mother’s day and Valentine ’s Day. This day is in essence a workers day as it emerged mainly of worker struggles. Different countries and organisations do different events on the day. Last year, 2016 it was celebrated at Freedom Park and addressed by the 2nd Deputy President of COSATU cde Zingiswa Losi in which she said
“We salute all women for their glorious role in our liberation struggle and that of other people’s anywhere in the world. We wish to dedicate this day to the gallant fighting Palestinian women as a fitting tribute to their glorious struggle against apartheid and colonialism. It is a struggle that all women in the world must feel as their own. In this regard, we need a painful reminder why we are here and for what reason are we gathered here tonight.

This year’s theme is Women in the changing World of Work. This theme has been popularised to Be Bold for Change! POPCRU women members are in this changing world of work; facing challenges daily that not only require of them to exercise the utmost discipline and dedication but also vigilance against possible threats to their lives in all the areas we organise in as was the case recently with the murder of Philippi East police Constable Amanda Ladlokova which is a tragic example of the dangers women in South Africa face in this changing world of work.