March 8th 1911: International Women’s Day launched

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German poster for the 1914 International Women’s Day

 

On this day in 1911, International Women’s Day was launched in Copenhagen by Clara Zetkin. Zetkin, a German socialist activist, led the Women’s Office of the Social Democratic Party. The official commemoration of the day began in an attempt to draw attention to the struggle for female suffrage and women’s rights. Activists organised demonstrations and protests for March 8th in order to have more far-reaching impact. Initially only celebrated in Europe, it soon became a global phenomenon, spreading to Russia, Australia and the United States. Ever since 1996, the UN has established official themes for International Day; this year’s theme is ‘Inspiring Change’.

 

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Clara Zetkin (1857 – 1933)

 

This is an important day to remember not just the victories women’s rights activists have achieved but also the obstacles still in place for women around the world. In many countries women are still considered second-class citizens, and even in supposedly liberal and democratic Western nations women are still not treated equally. Pay gaps persist, sexual harassment is all too common, the sexualisation and idealisation of women in the media is endemic, and men still dominate the lists of CEOs and world leaders. International Women’s Day reminds us there remains a lot to be done and most of this is a battle of hearts and minds, trying to change the preconceptions which result in institutionalised inequality. This year’s vague theme of ‘Inspiring Change’ suggests a progressive and forward thinking attitude which we can hope may set the stage for addressing the serious problems of gender inequality around the world.

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