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From Challenges to Victories: The Revolutionary Path to March 8, International Women’s Day

From Challenges to Victories: The Revolutionary Path to March 8, International Women's Day

International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8 each year, is a key date to reflect on the progress made toward gender equality, to call to action for the acceleration of equality and to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women. The history of this day is intrinsically linked to the figure of Clara Zetkin, a woman who dedicated her life to the fight for women’s rights and social justice. Her role in the establishment of International Women’s Day is a powerful example of how volunteerism and activism can lead to significant changes in society. But how did this day originate?

In 1907, the Seventh Congress of the Second Socialist International, held in Stuttgart, saw the participation of eminent Marxists such as Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, August Bebel, Lenin and Jean Jaurès. Among the issues discussed was the women’s question, culminating in the resolution to actively work for the introduction of universal women’s suffrage, maintaining a critical distance from bourgeois feminists and approaching instead the socialist parties that shared the same goals.

On the latter issue, the Congress voted for a resolution in which it committed the socialist parties to “vigorously fight for the introduction of universal women’s suffrage.” Two days later, from August 26 to 27, an International Conference of Socialist Women was held, attended by 58 delegates from 13 countries, at which the creation of a Socialist Women’s Information Bureau was decided upon. 

In the United States, Corinne Brown’s initiative to organize a conference dedicated to “Woman’s Day” in 1908. That initiative had no immediate follow-up, but at the end of the year the Socialist Party of America recommended that all local sections “reserve the last Sunday of February 1909 for the organization of a demonstration in favor of women’s voting rights“. Thus it was that in the United States the first Women’s Day was celebrated on February 23, 1909.

The proposal for an international day dedicated to women was first officially put forward by Zetkin in 1910, during the Second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen. The idea was to have a day each year when women from around the world could demonstrate unitedly for their rights and to raise awareness of gender issues. The goal was to promote gender equality, the right to vote for women, the right to work and an end to discrimination. Zetkin’s proposal was received with great enthusiasm, and the following year, on March 19, 1911, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in several countries, including Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland (in the U.S. still on the last Sunday in February).

According to the testimonies, that date was chosen because, in Germany: “on March 19, 1848, during the revolution, the King of Prussia had to recognize the power of an armed people for the first time and yield before the threat of a proletarian revolt. Among the many promises he made then and later forgot was the recognition of women’s right to vote.” In France the demonstration was held on March 18, 1911, the 40th anniversary of the Paris Commune, as well as in Vienna, where some demonstrators carried red flags (a symbol of the Commune) to commemorate the fallen of that insurrection. In Sweden it took place on May 1, 1911, in conjunction with Labor Day demonstrations.

Although the specific dates and themes of the celebrations varied from country to country, the essence of the day remained the same: to unite women in a common struggle for their rights and for a more just and equal future.

Women’s Day celebrations were interrupted during World War I in all countries involved in the conflict, resulting in the cancellation of the congress of the Second International and the Third International Conference of Socialist Women. 

In Russia, March 8, 1917 (corresponding to February 23 in the Julian calendar) marked a historic moment when women in St. Petersburg demonstrated to demand an end to the war.  This protest, followed by other demonstrations and the weak reaction of the Cossack forces, contributed to the collapse of tsarism and marked the beginning of the Russian February Revolution. In recognition of these events and to establish a common date of celebration, on June 14, 1921, during the Second International Conference of Communist Women in Moscow, March 8 was officially designated as “International Workers’ Day.”

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