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March 8 – International Women’s Day

March 8, 2010

International Women’s Day evolved out of a growing effort amongst women’s and socialist groups to fight for more equality for women at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1908, 15,000 women marched in New York City demanding shorter work hours, better wages and the right to vote. In 1909, the Socialist Party of America designated February 28 as the first National Women’s Day, which was to be celebrated on the last Sunday of every February.

In 1910, at the Second International Conference for Working Women, there was a proposal to have an international women’s day, where women around the world would press for their demands on the same day. The proposal was not adopted until the following year and International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated in several countries around the world. However, something happened just one week later that would galvanize this new international movement.

On March 25, a fire began at the Triangle factory in New York City. It was common practice for factory owners to lock the workers inside until the work day ended and because of that practice 140 women, most Jewish and Italian immigrants, burned to death in that fire. The international women’s movement, labor and socialist movements mobilized around the world to mourn these women and to organize for worker and women’s rights.

For years after the first, the Triangle factory fire became the focus of International Women’s Day and gave birth to the Bread and Roses Campaign. The Bread and Roses Campaign was begun by workers (mostly women) who went on strike at a textile factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts. This strike was organized by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) with the slogan, “We want Bread, but we want Roses too!

In 2010, millions of women and men are celebrating International Women’s Day in almost every country of the world. Over the weekend there were marches and observances in places like London, Toronto, China, and San Jose, California. The United Nations for this year’s IWD has adopted the theme, “Equal rights, equal opportunity: Progress for All!

The Feminist Peace Network has compiled a great list of statements from women and women’s movements around the world to celebrate International Women’s Day. These statements reflect the urgency of demanding and working for the rights of women everywhere.

One commentator, Judy Rebick says, “In the end, my conclusion is that the inter-locking systems of patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism will maintain the oppression of women.  There is only so far we can go without challenging all of them.  That’s why I am thrilled to see the women’s movement become more global, more diverse, more radical and more integrated into other movements for social and environmental change.  Even if in the short time, we are less effective in making change, in the long term the change will be deeper and broader.

Let us celebrate the women in our lives – our mothers, our daughters, our grandmothers, our aunts, our cousins, our wives & partners, our co-workers, our neighbors and all the women in the world who deserve equality and justice.

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