8 March 2010: Women’s Day Centenary

The Slogans of Hundred Years of Women’s Liberation Struggles Resonate Even Today

Who deserves the credit for the legacy of ‘International Women’s Day’? Governments or the United Nations may try to turn it into a day for official (sarkari) pronouncements and promises of ‘women’s empowerment.’ They try to hide the real legacy of Women’s Day, because they are deeply uncomfortable with the fact that it was communist women workers protesting on the streets a century ago, who started International Women’s Day.

Origins of IWD

Women workers in garment and other factories in the USA in 1909 first observed ‘Women’s Day’ with huge demonstrations to demand labour laws (including the 8-hour working day) and the right to vote for women. In 1910, the Second International Conference of Working Women at Copenhagen accepted German socialist leader Clara Zetkin’s proposal that International Women’s Day be celebrated every year demanding rights for working women, including labour laws for women, the right to vote, and peace. In keeping with that decision, communists organised International Women’s Day the next year in many countries, and in Germany, 30000 women workers participated in processions, defying police repression. Since 1913, International Women’s Day has been celebrated every year on 8 March as a day of women’s assertion of their commitment to liberation and to the struggle for a world free of every kind of oppression.

As we approach 8 March this year, the issues that moved women to raise the banner of revolt a century ago continue to resonate among women today. While women have made huge strides in the last century, the fact is that many of achievements of the last century (and more) of women’s liberation struggles are under attack in the wake of globalisation.

“Bread, Land and Peace” – Then and Now

It is worth remembering that the people’s upsurge that led to the socialist Revolution of 1917 in Russia began on March 8 that year, when thousands of Russian women flooded the streets of Petrograd raising the slogan of bread, land and peace’, demanding bread, land for peasantry, and an end to the imperialist World War I.

Globally, this slogan continues to resonate among women. In Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza, women continue to be devastated by imperialist wars – while women are at the forefront of huge anti-war mobilisations in the US and its allied countries. Imperialist economic policies have resulted in global hunger – which hits women the worst.

‘Bread, land and peace’ is a particularly relevant slogan for the women’s movement in India today. The image of the women of Manipur in 2004 protesting in the nude with the slogan ‘Indian Army Rape Us’ is a reminder that women are the worst casualties in the state’s war on its people. Be it at Bastar, Shopian (Kashmir), Lalgarh (W Bengal) or the North East, women suffer brutalities, rape and murder at the hands of security forces. Women in land struggles (Tapasi Malik at Singur, many women at Nandigram and more recently, adivasi women at Narayanpatna (Orissa)) have been targeted with rape and murder.

The question of bread assumes explosive proportions this March, as prices of food break all records. The Global Gender Gap Report 2009 had ranked India bottom (134th among 134 countries) in terms of the ‘women’s health and survival’ index, noting that women suffer from chronic malnutrition and anaemia. The impact of the steep rise in food prices (nearly 20%) on these women can only be imagined.