Friday, 6 March 2009

International Women’s Day

by Kathryn Hadley

This Sunday, March 8th, International Women’s Day will be celebrated in countries across the world. Here is a brief history of the day and of the fight for women’s rights.

The British MP John Stuart Mill was the first Member of Parliament to call for women’s right to vote, in 1869.
On September 19th 1893, New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote.
In 1910, at the second International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen, a woman called Clara Zetkin, the leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany suggested, for the first time, the idea of an International Women’s Day. The conference was attended by over 100 women, from 17 different countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament. The proposal was approved almost unanimously.
The following year, on March 19th, 1911, the very first International Women’s Day was celebrated in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
The date of March 19th is believed to have been originally chosen because on March 19th, 1848, in the context of the 1848 revolution, the Prussian king recognised for the first time the threat of the proletariat uprising and issued a series of promises, including the promise to introduce the vote for women (which he incidentally did not keep). The success of the first International Women’s Day, marked by over a million people, exceeded expectations with numerous meetings organised in small towns and villages across the four countries.
In 1913, International Women’s Day was transferred to March 8th.
International Women’s Day was granted official recognition by the United Nations in 1975 and was taken up by many governments.
March 8th is now a national holiday in Russia, China, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

A series of events are being organised in the UK throughout March to celebrate International Women’s Day and the economic, political and social achievements’ of women. Here is a small selection…

- Women in the Second World War
March 8th
Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms
Clive StepsKing Charles Street London SW1A 2AQ
Telephone: 020 7930 6961
A series of talks and film screenings examining the contribution of women during the Second World War.
- 100 Women 100 Visions
March 9th – March 13th
Imperial College London (College main entrance)
South Kensington Campus
London SW7 2AZ
Telephone: 020 7589 5111
A series of 100 portraits celebrating women scientists, engineers and medics from all academic levels at Imperial College London.
- Birds Eye View Film Festival
March 5th – 13th
A nine-day festival celebrating women filmmakers from around the globe with 70 events at the BFI Southbank, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Gate (Notting Hill), and Picturehouse Cinemas across the UK. The festival includes a retrospective entitled ‘Screen Seductresses: Vamps, Vixens & Femmes Fatales’ dedicated to transgressive women in film with a series of silent films starring women such as Louise Brooks, Theda Bara, Greta Garbo and Alla Nazimova, as well as a month-long ‘Femmes Fatales’ season at the BFI Southbank, showing 18 classic Holywood Femmes Fatales films from 1941-1995.

For more information on the events organised for International Women’s Day, visit the website

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