Friday 07 March 2008
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On Saturday, women around the world will celebrate our progress and plans for the future. Where will you be?
It's annoying that International Women's Day gets a mere whisper compared to the retail shout-out that Mothers' Day receives in this country. Although I'm not a big holiday/ritual/ceremony kinda girl (no, you can't ignore my birthdays), I do think this particular annual event is special, so I try to celebrate each year.
Let's start with some history.
In February, 1909, following a march for labor rights by many thousands of women workers the year before, the Socialist Party of America declared International Women's Day (IWD) in the United States. The next year, at the Second International, in Copenhagen, women from 11 countries adopted the Day in the hopes of furthering women's suffrage.
In 1911, over a million women and men marked the Day around the world, but only a week later the crime known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire took the lives of over 140 women in the rag trade - mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants - and the struggle against sweatshop conditions became forever associated with IWD.
Russian women imprinted their own radicalism on IWD in 1917 when their strike for "bread and peace" over the death of two million Russian soldiers led to the abdication of the Czar and governmental embrace of women's voting rights.
Soon the UN adopted International Women's Day and in 1975, in recognition of the second wave of feminism, held a global International Women's Year. This meant that, just like the men, we could gather from around the world, compromise bitterly after difficult debate (say, over the inclusion of queers or abortion rights), make resolutions that no one is entirely happy with and be unable to get our governments to put any resources into meeting the goals, anyway. Wow, finally we've got a seat at the table of world-level frustration.
While there's hardly even an official murmur in the States over IWD, there is a website that lists an exhilarating range of world locations and activities - giving the sense that International Women's Day is not as moribund elsewhere as it seems to be here. This website keeps a tally of events (and provides the photos I've used in this posting), including the following.
In Saudi Arabia, they're holding a two-day workshop on integrating women into the economy. A domestic violence group in Albania offers an event they call a Manifestation. Likewise, Tanzania's having a mother-daughter fundraiser for their domestic violence organization, while the funder in Fiji goes towards building a scholarship fund for "young women studying Automotive and Electrical Engineering at the Fiji Institute of Technology" - the event has the charming name of Women in Celebration of You. In Lebanon they'll be looking at women's health. Icelanders are planning to talk about women's world-wide friendships and about children's rights, while the Kenyan's are having a musical festival and handing out prestigious awards.
So what are you doing? I'm going to an annual tea with 90 other women in the afternoon and in the evening to a screening of the as-yet-unfinished film, "Left on Pearl", about the 1971 takeover that started on IWD of a Harvard University building by the vibrant Boston women's movement. I was there, so I was interviewed for the film. I'm going to celebrate old victories, because lately it feels like those are the only ones we have.
Sue Katz has published journalism on the three continents where she has lived; her topics range from Middle East peace movements to the impact of ageing on sexuality. Visit her blog, Consenting Adult, at www.suekatz.com.