Each year around the world, International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8. Thousands of events occur around the world on this day and often throughout the entire month of March to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. Despite all of these happenings, for many of us (myself included) the day kind of comes and goes without much fanfare. So, I decided that this week I would mark the day with a bit of a primer. The least I could do considering all of the amazing women we have to thank for blazing the trail and cultivating the endless opportunities open to most women today.
Did you know that International Women's Day history dates back to the early 1900's? This was a time of tremendous expansion and change in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth changes in labor movements in North America and across Europe.
Here are a few facts that I found interesting about the early years from the International Women’s Day website:
1909: The first National Woman's Day was observed in the United States on 28 February. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honor of the 1908 garment workers' strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions.
1910: The Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, established a Women's Day, international in character, to honor 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, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance.
1911: 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.
1913-1914: International Women's Day also became a mechanism for protesting World War I. As part of the peace movement, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February. Elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8 March of the following year, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with other activists.
1917: Against the backdrop of the war, women in Russia again chose to protest and strike for 'Bread and Peace' on the last Sunday in February (which fell on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar). Four days later, the Czar abdicated and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.
Since these early years of the 20th century, International Women's Day has assumed a greater global dimension for women in both developed and developing countries. The growing international women's movement has been further strengthened by international United Nations women's conferences too. These conferences have helped mark the commemeration and serve as an opportunity to build support for women's rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.
Organizations, governments, charities and women's groups around the world choose different themes each year reflecting both global and local gender issues. This year’s theme "Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures" is being used by schools, universities, governments, women’s and the private sector as an opportunity to connect young women to business women, politicians, professors and women in the hopes that they will embrace women leadership roles in future.
The United Nations develops their International Women's Day theme as well. Their 2012 theme is “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty”(Canadian Government chose this one as well). Some organizations develop their own themes that are more relevant to their local contexts. For example, the European Parliament's 2012 theme is "Equal pay for work of equal value". The United States even designates the whole month of March as 'Women's History Month'.
Whatever the theme, on March 8 events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements. The internet lists loads of activity that connects women from all around the world ranging from political rallies, business conferences, government activities and networking events to local women's craft markets, theatric performances, fashion parades and more. Corporations have also started to more actively support International Women's Day by running their own internal events and through supporting external ones. The hub of activity proves that each year International Women’s Day is increasing in status.
What I think is important about International Women’s Day is that is also a day on which we can reflect on the progress made for women, an opportunity to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by the many women who have worked hard to help to shape the path of women. Where would we be without Gloria Steinem, “Rosie the Riveter”, and Madeline Albright (some of my favs)?
There HAS been significant change and attitudinal shift in both women's and society's thoughts about women's equality and emancipation. There are more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women's visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life.
There just needs to be more, continuous change. We aren't there yet. Women are still not paid equally, women still are not represented in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women's education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men (Catalyst). There is continued need for changes in the workplace to better accommodate the realities of womens' many roles in both the home and the workplace, the essential need for women to have the flexibility to determine their own success and make choices and not feel judged, and the need to help so many women who don’t have access to many of the tools that we do in more developed countries.
Thankfully there has been hard data that supports the continued positive contribution of women in the workplace and society. Recent data shows that women are essential to improving world conditions. When a board has a higher percentage than average of women members it points to higher corporate philanthropy with results that bring aid to those needing the most in global assistance. The September 2011 report called "Gender and Corporate Social Responsibility: It’s A Matter of Sustainability” by Harvard Business School along with Catalyst, a leading nonprofit membership organization that works to expand opportunities for women and business, have determined that ‘gender inclusive’ leadership leads clearly to greater CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility. Data shows that each woman who is added to a corporate board, drives corporate giving up by 2.3 million, a benefit that can work to bring aid for suffering under global poverty and disaster conditions.
The data is there. Women are still working hard through their employers, government agencies, not for profits, to push. And we need them to keep pushing so why not take the day to celebrate their efforts and everyone who came before them? Any maybe, join in too. Find something you can do to help move women forward. Everyone can play a part! I hope I just did.
Blooming Betty will return the week of March 19th.