International Women's Day has been observed since in the early 1900's, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.
Great unrest and critical debate was occurring amongst women. Women's oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Then in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.
In accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman's Day (NWD) was observed across the United States on 28 February. Women continued to celebrate NWD on the last Sunday of February until 1913.
n 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named a Clara Zetkin (Leader of the 'Women's Office' for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women's Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day - a Women's Day - to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women's clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin's suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women's Day was the result.
Following the decision agreed at Copenhagen in 1911, International Women's Day (IWD) was honoured the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However less than a week later on 25 March, the tragic 'Triangle Fire' in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women's Day events. 1911 also saw women's 'Bread and Roses' campaign.
Fifteen thousand women marching in New York City over a hundred years ago - wow, that must have been some sight to see. To read the rest of the history about International Women's Day, click HERE.
In honor of this day, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, prepared this address:
No discussion of IWD would be complete, though, without one of the most powerful speeches about Women's Rights and Human Rights. That would be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's speech to the UN 4th World Conference on Women Plenary Session in Beijing:
Wow - moves me to tears every time I watch this speech for a number of reasons: to have such an amazing advocate for women's rights, and human rights; the awe of her making this point to such a wide ranging audience, and grief that so much about which Clinton spoke - economic inequality, educational inequality, and the rampant rape of women around the globe, often as a tool of war. After all these years, it is not decreasing, but increasing.
And one area in our hemisphere where rape is on the rise is in Haiti after the earthquake:
Thank heavens some of these women will be safer due to the security patrol, but this is an aftershock of the earthquake about which we have heard nothing. What a grave disservice to women that it is not being reported, and that these women are in such fear. Sadly, that is the case for many women, here and abroad.
On this day, this 99th celebration of International Women's Day, let us renew our resolve to make meaningful changes in the lives of women in the United States, Haiti, Sudan, Bosnia, England, all around the globe. Let us be mindful of what other women endure in other countries, as well as at home. Let us work for social justice, equality, and abolition of violence against women. And may we not falter, for our sake, for the sake of our children, for the sake of humanity.
The last word on this day may come from a surprising source - NATO. Yes, that NATO. They make a suggestion behind which I can get 1,000%: