International Women’s Day

Today, International Women’s Day, is a day to celebrate the gains that we have made towards the liberation of women. You will all know of those gains, but you will also know that we still have a way to go.

International Women’s Day [IWD] has become rather mainstream, but did you know that its roots are in the socialist tradition and it usually has had a radical edge?

Janey Stone has written a history of the day in this article, but let me give you a potted history.

Clara Zetkin was a leading socialist in the German Social Democratic Party in the 1900s. She argued that the working class would never win its battles without women and raised the issue of special party work among women. At the International Socialist Women’s Conference in Copenhagen in August 1910 Zetkin proposed the establishment of an international working women’s day. The inspiration had come from US socialists who had held women’s demonstrations and meetings the year before. The slogan for IWD was to be: “The vote for women will unite our strength in the struggle for socialism.”

IWD was enthusiastically taken up and over the next decade there were large rallies of women and men in various countries. A demonstration of women in Petrograd in 1917 demanding “Bread and Peace” was the spark for the Russian Revolution.

Janey writes this about the first IWD in Australia

The MWG [Militant Women’s Group] organised a rally in the Sydney Domain on 25 March 1928. The demands were an eight-hour day for female shop workers, no piece work, the basic wage for the unemployed and annual holidays on full pay. The Sydney MWG again organised a public meeting for IWD in Belmore Park in 1929 – this time with a focus on support for the wives and families of striking timber workers.

The first Melbourne event occurred in 1931. With the lead banner proclaiming “Long live International Women’s Day”, 50 women led 150 men on a march to the Yarra Bank.

In the late 1960s the Equal Pay Campaign was also an important focus of IWD. I  remember IWD marches in the 1970’s where there were demands for equal pay, reproductive rights, child care, equal opportunities at work and in education. For many of us it shaped who we were and how we saw the world.

It is important for me to remember the radical history of IWD. It reminds me that the gains we have made are linked to struggle. We were not given these; women, and yes, men too, have fought to achieve what we have. It also reminds me that while the likes of Julie Bishop (our Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister), and Gina Reinhart (one of the richest people in Australia) are women, they are not on my side.

So, I have taken some time today to think about what my life could have been like if all those working class heroes had not fought for those things like equal pay and the eight hour day.

And I have been listening to Peggy Seeger, a woman to be proud of! I love the last part of “Gonna be an engineer” where she says to the boss “I am fighting as a woman, not a lady, I am fighting as an engineer.”

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About anne54

Botanic artist
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14 Responses to International Women’s Day

  1. katechiconi says:

    Ah yes, I remember being cheap labour. I particularly remember one job interview where the boss told me I’d always be second choice for the position because I’d be wanting to go off and have babies, and a man would never do that. And now I’m older, and I can truthfully look back and say “I never did that either, so what about that job?”

    Liked by 1 person

    • anne54 says:

      We can’t win with sorts of jobs can we? Either the pay is lousy because you are a woman or you don’t get the job because you are a woman and are likely to race off and have babies! I wonder how long the bloke stayed at the job 🙂

      Like

      • katechiconi says:

        Only exactly as long as it took to find something else even better paid… I got taken on in a role junior to him, although I was better qualified and more experienced. And no, I didn’t get his job once he’d gone!

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  2. Denise says:

    Great to share this today. Thanks Anne and happy IWD to you too

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ellen Hawley says:

    I loved that song from the first moment I heard it. Thanks for a great post, and for including it.

    Like

    • anne54 says:

      As soon as I started thinking about music for the post I remembered that song. I hadn’t heard it for many years, but loved it as much now as I did then. I am so glad you liked it too.

      Like

  4. acflory says:

    The Daughter and I were talking about women’s right to vote over the weekend, and a quick google just showed me I was wrong about something; Australia was not the first country in the world to give women the right to vote – New Zealand did in 1893. BUT…Australia gave women the right to vote /and/ be elected to national parliament in 1902, and that was another first. As a woman, and as a fairly patriotic first generation aussie, I’ve always been rather proud of that. 🙂

    Like

    • anne54 says:

      Good reason to be proud too. I am disturbed when I hear that people dismiss voting. I know that it doesn’t achieve all that much, but it was a hard fought victory, especially for women, and one we should not take for granted. BTW did you know that Emmeline Pankhurst’s daughter Adela emigrated to Australia and became one of the founding members of the Communist Party? A little more info about her here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adela_Pankhurst

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      • acflory says:

        Oh my…. I did not know that. It’s somehow fitting though isn’t it? Such a pity Adela lurched from one thing to another in her own life though. Thanks for that link. I really enjoyed it. 🙂

        Like

  5. EllaDee says:

    I went to an IWD lunch where Annabelle Chauncy OAM was the speaker. She is Founder and Director of the School for Life Foundation; a not for profit organisation focused on providing access to quality education in emerging countries and building sustainable and profitable communities. She talked about her work in Uganda. If women before her hadn’t paved the way, she wouldn’t be able to do this work.

    Like

    • anne54 says:

      That is so true — we stand on the shoulders of others, and of course, allow others to stand on our shoulders too. She must have been an inspiring speaker.

      Like

  6. What a beautiful way of thinking about this, Anne. So true.

    Like

    • anne54 says:

      I have been thinking about strong, confident women lately. I am wondering whether Baby Boomers (my generation) are generally more confident because of the world we grew up in — stable, prosperous, confident (well for those of us in middle class western countries.)I may write about it and see what people think.

      Like

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