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Thoughts on Woman's Days

By Merline St. John

"International Women's Day?" you say... Bah Humbug... Do we still need it today? Of course we do and here's why...

Originating more than 100 years ago in the USA, International Women's Day or Working Women's Day celebrates the political, economic and social gains of women won through struggle.

Women's groups around the world marks International Women's Day sometime in March every year usually. Women on all continents, often divided by national boundaries and by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate their day, looking back to a tradition that represents at least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.

International Women's Day is the story of ordinary women as makers of history, it is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men. In ancient Greece, Lysistrata initiated a sexual strike against men in order to end war; during the French Revolution, Parisian women calling for "liberty, equality, fraternity" marched on Versailles to demand women's suffrage.

On March 8, 1857, New York women took to the streets to protest dangerous working conditions for women textile workers. Exactly 51 years later, 15,000 women marched through New York demanding shorter hours, the right to vote and an end to child labour.

In New York City, UN Women will observe this date with a March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights, in collaboration with the City of New York, NGO CSW, the Working Group on Girls, the Man-Up Campaign and the UN Women for Peace Association.

UN Women is the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, and works around the world to protect and promote gender equality, the human rights of women and women's empowerment. The march will take place on International Women's Day, March 8, and commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Although International Women's Day has its origins in the United States, it was not recognized as a day of international significance until 1913. Then, in 1917 in Russia, International Women's Day demonstrations demanding "bread and peace" in response to the 2 million deaths of Russian soldiers in World War I merged with another strike, sparking the revolution to remove the Czar. Subsequently, the provisional government granted women the right to vote. To this day, International Women's Day serves as a reminder that our place is in the streets and that our work is not done.

We in South Africa also celebrate National Women's Day in August every year to commemorate the the great women's march of 1956, where women marched to the Union Buildings to protest against the carrying of pass books.

In South Africa and around the world, women have not yet achieved full social, political or economic equality. We continue fighting to keep the gains we have made and mobilizing to demand full equality. This is the way we honour International Women's Day: as a celebration of struggle and a day to look ahead towards continuing to build the struggle for women's equality.

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