International Women’s Day
On International Women’s Day
“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights” – Gloria Steinem
March 8th is International Women’s Day, and we dames will be celebrating. I am torn between having a particularly languorous bath replete with flowers and candles, or heading out to join one of the many events planned to mark this important event.
I have always found it both fascinating and ironic that a holiday that originated in the USA became such a firm favourite in communist countries, although admittedly one that was originally organised by the Socialist Party of America. Their event was held on February 28, 1909 in New York, and was replicated in various forms over the next few years, culminating in the first official International Women’s Day, which was celebrated on March 8, 1914. From then on the date was fixed. In London on that day in 1914 there was a march for women’s suffrage – Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested at Charing Cross Station on her way to speak at a rally in Trafalgar Square.
On International Women’s Day in 1917 in St Petersburg, women went on strike for ‘bread and peace’. They demanded an end to the fighting of World War 1, an end to food shortages, and also an end to the Czar’s rule. This led to the February Revolution; workers left their factories and joined the women in support, which resulted in a mass strike with everyone out on the streets. From then on the day became an official holiday in the Soviet Union, and continued mainly to be celebrated in countries with socialist leanings.
A friend who grew up in the Soviet Union reduced me to tears of laughter with his description of the growing panic that would engulf all males from the age of around 15 from the morning of 7 March 7. The rule was that on International Women’s Day you had to give some sort of gift to every woman you knew, and this was not negotiable. The trouble was that in Soviet times it could be very hard to find something appropriate in the shops at all..
The scenes that followed would make the first day of Harrods’ sale look like tea with the Queen. Grown men would be reduced to weeping; standing in queues at near empty kiosks, hoping that one small packet of chocolates would be left for their wife/girlfriend/boss/secretary. The word would go round that on the Arbat (a famous street in central Moscow) someone was selling perfume. Cue for a stampede to the Arbat, only to find that the last bottle had somehow mysteriously been sold five minutes previously.
I’m not expecting to be flooded with presents – although there’s no harm in harbouring a faint hope – but I will be raising a glass to all those who, in Steinem’s words, care about human rights.