March 8th, 2019 is International Women’s Day—a day that celebrates women and their achievements around the world. To kick off Common Mag’s week-long celebration of women (but really, when are we not celebrating women?), let’s take a brief look at the history of the date and how the feminist movement has evolved since its inauguration over 100 years ago.
No single organization, activist group, or government is solely responsible for the commencement of International Women’s Day. It was an accumulation of events throughout history that lead to its founding. Similarly, no one group of people holds ownership over this day; it belongs to all groups and is collectively recognized as a celebration of women by countries around the world. Ultimately, this day serves as an opportunity to look back on everything women have achieved, reflect on our work in the present, and to look to the future for what needs to be done to further our fight for equality. It’s about recognizing the women in our lives and appreciating all they have done and continue to do for us on a daily basis.
The year 1911 marked the very first official International Women’s Day after over 100 women, representing 17 different countries, met at the Copenhagen International Conference of Working Women the previous year and voted to establish a globally recognized day to honour the movement for women’s rights. The celebration in 1911 saw over one million women and men attend in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. It was aligned with the first-wave feminist movement that “sought to win women’s suffrage, female education rights, better working conditions, and abolition of gender double standards.”
International Women’s Day has been celebrated on varying days at the end of February or beginning of March every year since 1911. A set date was chosen in 1975, officially marking March 8th as International Women’s Day around the world. This particular date was chosen due to women gaining suffrage in Soviet Russia on March 8, 1917, becoming a national holiday there. The UN later adopted this date as well.
The 21st century has seen tremendous leaps forward in recognizing and establishing women’s rights. There are more women in boardrooms around the world, there is greater equality in legislative rights than ever before, and many female public-figures act as role models for little girls everywhere. However, the fight is far from over. Unfortunately, women are still paid significantly less than their male counterparts, are not equally present in politics, have less access to education, and violence against women is far more frequent and worse than men.
Since 1996, International Women’s Day has adopted themed annual celebrations; the first ever being “Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future”, then “Women at the Peace Table”, and so on. This year’s theme is “#BalanceforBetter” and asks people to strive for gender-balance in all aspects of society.
The feminist movement has been heavily criticized for overemphasizing a one-dimensional form of feminism, focusing on the experiences of cisgender, heterosexual, upper middle class white women. The third wave of feminism (1990s-2000s) seeks to confront and refrain from this essentialist definition and instead focus on the intersection between race and gender. We can also bring economic status, able-bodiedness, sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnicity into consideration when talking about intersectionality, as oppression is influenced by the “intersectional systems of society.” As an individual who embodies (in looks and background, not in morals or beliefs) the essentialist feminist standard, I will refrain from going too deep into this topic as it’s not my story to tell. However, it is critical to recognize the importance of the intersectionality of feminism and acknowledge that for many women around the world the fight for equality is still a long road ahead of them.
I personally believe that not only do we need to recognize the importance of intersectional feminism, but we also need to recognize the importance of our allies. Yes, International Women’s Day is a celebration of women, but that doesn’t mean men should be excluded from those celebrations. Studies have shown that when men are actively engaged in gender inclusion discussions, 96% of organizations see progress in comparison to only 30% of organizations without engaged men. There are a ton of events you can attend that provide the perfect opportunities to educate yourself (men, I’m talking to you) on the different societal issues feminism aims to dismantle—all you have to do is look for them. In the meantime, if you want tips on how to operate within these spaces and learn to be a better ally this article is a good starting point.
With the feminist movement’s values shifting over the years to adapt to the cultural and societal context of the time, and the fourth wave just beginning (i.e. connecting the movement through technology), we have to adjust the ways in which we go about enacting the change we desire as well. By including everyone in the conversation and assisting those who wish to be our allies instead of isolating them, we can move forward together into a better future that’s more inclusive of all, not just women.
To some, International Women’s Day means a chance to celebrate and appreciate the women in their lives. To others it’s a chance to protest against inequalities women are still facing today. No matter how you’re planning on spending your Friday, remember to acknowledge the women in the past who have fought for everything we have today. Remember to thank your mom for teaching you the tough life lessons. Thank your grandmother for always knowing the right thing to say. Thank your friends for sticking by your side. Thank your sisters for going through life with you. And to the ladies out there, thank yourselves for fighting each day to be seen, heard, and respected. I see you and I thank you too.
If you’re looking for ways to get involved this year, here’s a list of International Women’s Day events happening in Toronto and the surrounding area.
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