Contraceptives and Condoms, International Policies

Reflections on International Women’s Days Past

Jennifer Johnson is Writer/Editor at Population Action International.

“One seething trembling sea of women.” These were the words Russian revolutionary and feminist Aleksandra Kollontai used to describe the one of the first International Women’s Day celebrations in 1911. The first events were organized by German socialist Klara Zetkin to call attention to the plight of the female worker. As the year wore on, a whole series of marches and strikes were organized as news of these demonstrations spread across Europe like wildfire.

As the years went on, the annual event developed, taking on the cause of peace, as well as women’s rights. In 1915, a demonstration was organized in Switzerland to urge the end of World War I. On March 8, 1917, in one of the most famous International Women’s Day events, Russian women led the strike “for bread and peace” in St. Petersburg. This strike merged with other riots that were taking place in the city and later became known as the February Revolution (at the time, Russians were using the Julian calendar, making the dates of the February Revolution February 24-28, while the dates were March 8-12 on the Gregorian calendar used by the rest of Europe.) The February Revolution forced Czar Nicholas II to abdicate, and March 8 became a socialist holiday to celebrate the “heroic woman worker.”

International Women’s Day was celebrated in the U.S. in the 1910s and 1920s, but didn’t really catch on until the women’s movement in the 1960s. By this time, the date lost most of its Socialist connotations and instead became a day to call attention to gender inequities, and to honor women’s achievements.

Now, nearly one hundred years after that first “seething trembling sea of women” held demonstrations across Europe, women everywhere continue to be inspired by the unrelenting commitment of the women who came before us. Whether the day was about women fighting for their equal rights, calling for peace, demanding an end to abuse, or honoring our achievements, International Women’s Day is a shining example of how powerful people, male or female, are when they join together and fight for what they believe is right.

International Women’s Day is now sponsored by the U.N. and honored as an official holiday in countries ranging from Armenia to Vietnam – all because of the women who had the courage to unite their voices in one powerful chorus, singing together for the issues they care deeply about, the issues that impact women everywhere: equality, health, freedom from poverty, economic opportunity, and so much more.

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