The Origins of Womans Day


International Womans Day is celebrated in many countries around the world on March 8. Women are recognized for what they have accomplished in the struggle for equal rights and independence. Their efforts began on 8 march 1857 in the clothing and textile factories, because of low wages and inhumane working conditions. A demonstration started on the streets of New York City, but police dispersed the protestors quickly. Two years later the same women started a labor union to prevent such events from ever happening.

Almost 50 years later, women became more active, expressing their desire for change. On 8 March 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York and demanded better pay, improved working conditions and voting rights. Their slogan was “Bread and Roses”, bread symbolizing financial security and roses a better life. In 1909, the fist National Womans Day was celebrated in the U.S. The Socialist Party of America designated the last Sunday in February as the official day for the event and it remained so until 1913.

During the second International Conference of Working Women that took place in Copenhagen in 1910, Clara Zetkin, the leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany proposed that there should be a celebration in every country on the same day. Over 100 women fron 17 countries unanimously approved the idea. On 19 March 1911, International Womans Day was held in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Austria for the first time. Women organized campaigns that supported their right to work, study and vote.

Less than a week later a tragic event occurred, the Triangle Fire. On 25 March 1922, a fire at Triangle Shirtwaist Factory killed 146 women workers. The young women, mostly immigrants that sewed “shirtwaists” were trapped in the factory behind locked doors. Firefighters couldn’t reach them and the only fire escape collapsed because it could not sustain all the weight. They burned to death or died from leaping from the ninth floor. The event influenced the founding ideas of Womans Day and motivated the members to fiercely pursuit justice.

In 2011, more than 100 countries commemorated the 100th anniversary of Womans Day. President Barack Obama proclaimed that month as “Women’s History Month”. Australia commemorated the event with a special coin and Pakistan organized numerous events. Actions men took in Egypt prove that the struggle is not over. Women in Cairo gathered in central Tahrir Square to stand up for their rights, but they were harassed by hundreds of men while the police stood and watched.