History of IWD
On March 8 1908, thousands of women in the needle trades in New York spilled onto the streets. They demanded the vote, and an end to sweatshops and child labour. Their action also recognised pickets, held fifty-one years previously, when garment workers had called for improved working conditions, a ten hour day and equal rights for women. The 1908 march happened at a time when women around the world, the so-called first wave feminists, were galvanising, particularly for the right to vote.
The worldwide socialist movement recognised the fairness of women’s demands. In 1910, at a socialist congress called the Second International, Clara Zetkin proposed that March 8 be annually marked as International Women’s Day. Zetkin was a well-known German revolutionary – a woman the Kaiser called “the most dangerous sorceress in the empire”.
In Australia the first International Women’s Day action was on March 8 1928. Back then women gathered in the Domain in Sydney. Linked as it was to the fate of socialists, International Women’s Day lost widespread public relevance in the 1950s as the Cold War deepened.
It was rediscovered by a new generation of educated women, from both the middle and the working class. After the Second World War they were either excluded from employment or forced to work for less pay and worse conditions than men. Many of these women opposed the Vietnam War and were immediately confronted by the inbuilt prejudice of the men alongside. There was an explosion of writing about the economic, social, political and emotional effects on women of male domination.
The Women’s Liberation Movement was born. Women formed Consciousness Raising groups where they talked about what was happening in their lives. The traditions of the socialist movement crossed over with the new generation. On March 8, 1972, in capital cities across Australia, tens of thousands of women marched. Their banners called for Free 24 hour Child-care Centres; Freely Available Safe Contraceptives: Legalisation of Abortion: Equal Pay for Equal Work.
Since then, International Women’s Day has retained its demands of protest while expanding into a celebration of women’s achievements and lives. Whether in agitation or celebration, whether at a concert, dance, dinner, breakfast, award ceremony, march, lunch, picnic, or festival, women take advantage of the Day to enjoy their shared sisterhood.
History of Shoalhaven IWD
In the Shoalhaven, public events on International Women’s Day have been held since the 1990’s. With those words we remember the harsh conditions for many women in past histories, and are thankful for the work done to improve our situation today. Fed by that awareness we celebrate women’s achievements. At the same time we cast a truthful eye around the planet, acknowledging that the female sex and gender continue to be abused and exploited on physical, economic and social levels. To eliminate that harm, and safeguard future generations, women need to continue the agitation they’ve been involved in since the birth of democracy.