What does IWD mean to women today? International Women’s Day was started in 1909 in America by the Socialist Party and was first celebrated internationally two years later. It was originally called International Working Women’s Day, its aim was to promote equal rights for women, and particularly the vote. In Britain it has been traditionally celebrated by trade unions and women’s groups including National Assembly of Women on 8 March .
In the 70s it was revived by the Women’s Liberation Movement and became a focus for women to debate what kind of society we wanted including issues such as sexuality, childcare and abortion. There was always a wider political dimension ie highlighting women such as the Miners’ Wives in the 80s, women in Northern Ireland and Palestine.
In 2012 IWD looks very different. We have somehow moved from events that challenged what it meant to be a woman to a lifestyle fest of pampering and cupcakes.
Stockport Council’s IWD event, for instance is a partnership event with the Women’s Organisation, an economic development agency, with the publicity proclaiming ”This is a FREE event sponsored by Stockport Council for women running their own business in Stockport”. Down the road in Manchester the Council has organised a day of “Inspiring Futures” with the emphasis on gaining skills and applying for education or jobs. But the role models offered include a barrister and the chief executive of Nuclear Enterprise.
It is hard to reconcile these events with the stark reality that the numbers of women out of work is the highest in 25 years. Of the 2.67 million people who are unemployed 1.2 million are women. And as women make up 65% of the public sector they are being disproportionately affected by the cuts. And if that is not bad enough the changes in benefits including housing and tax credits are having a massive effect.
I came into Socialist politics in the 70s and for me the spirit of IWD is remembering those women who have challenged the stereotype of what it means to be a working woman and been active in grassroots campaigns. This is why I am pleased to be chairing an event at the Working Class Movement Library which will involve discussing the life of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth. We will be bringing the discussion back to 2012 with input from trade unionist Karen Bosson of the Communications Workers Union. The event starts at 2pm . For more information go here
I have asked some women to contribute their views on IWD and this is what they wrote. What do you think? Please add a comment.
“During the 1970’s and 80’s, when women were organising for themselves and as part of wider movements in Europe and US (anti-war, Greenham Common, in trade unions, women’s health movement etc) we organised marches and events on March 8th that highlighted our issues (access to abortion services being a prime one, which no-one else was going to organise). The events were also a tribute to those unsung women who had struggled in many different spheres, before us. The events were joyous and celebratory. IWD still has meaning for many struggling women’s groups in S.America, the Caribbean, in Africa and the Middle East. But in Britain, most of the activities I have seen advertised are the overt posturing of an anti- working class Labour bureaucracy, trying to hide behind a feminist apron/ petticoat – and a far cry from any independent feminist voice. So I’m not planning to celebrate 8th March this year, although I say “Good Luck” to any women trying to do something.” Pia Feig, trade union activist
“For me International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate our strengh, our successes, our diversity and to focus on the need to continue fighting for rights and equality worldwide because if we don’t who will. It’s also an opportunity to meet inspirational women at a variety of events and re-charge the batteries so we can keep up the struggle for another year!” Claire Mooney, musician and activist.
Finally there is an excellent article by Louise Raw in the Morning Star about International Women’s Day which you can read here.