100 years of advocacy for women’s rights
Apart from being Shrove Tuesday, this year 8 March marks the centenary of International Woman’s Day – and women’s 100-year-long struggle for equality in the workplace, education and family life. It is a global celebration recognising the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places, like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, it is even a national holiday.
The day was founded at a time of great social instability and crisis beginning at the turn of the 20th century. Women in industrially developing countries could only find low-paid jobs in textiles, manufacturing and domestic services. Working conditions were wretched and depressing, and inequality was widely promoted.
But this was also a time of revolution. Many of the changes taking place in women’s lives pushed against the political restrictions surrounding them. Throughout Europe, Britain and America, women from all social strata began to campaign for their rights through protests and active feminism. Women’s clubs and individuals fought hard to ensure better working conditions, better pay, the right to vote, improvement of family life, political and economic rights, and protection against violence, exploitation, discrimination and poverty.
A century on from the first International Women’s Day in 1911, the day is an opportunity for women worldwide to demand and press for their rights and participation in the society. It’s a time to reflect on the progress made, and to celebrate what the UN describes as “the ordinary women who have played extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities through acts of courage and determination”. International Women’s Day honours the work of the Suffragettes who fought for the right to vote in Britain, but also reminds of inequities still to be redressed and the reforms still to be made.
Despite all the achievements made so far, women in many parts of the world still have a tough fight ahead.
“While there has been an improvement in gender equality in Thailand, it is still very much a man’s world,” says international model Piya Chanphet. “Women work longer generally in low skilled manual labour jobs and get paid less than male counterparts, and it is socially acceptable, even a fashion, for men to have second girlfriends.
“However, women are becoming increasing more independent,” she says. “Education for women is improving and many girls are now getting higher level jobs as a result.”
For Piya, International Women’s Day is “a chance to reflect on what it means to be a woman and celebrate that gender equality is for the most part slowly improving for women all over the world”.
Fashion photographer Laelia Milleri from Poland remembers one 8 March when she asked her mother ‘When is the men’s day?’ “She said that it is every day.”
Nevertheless, Laelia grew up in a climate “where the iconic Matka Polka (Polish mother) had the unearthly power, nerves and skills to go to work, cook dinner for the whole family and make sure that everybody is happy. The men seemed to wait to be served and be disappointed when the soup was too salty.”
For her, “International Women’s Day should be celebrated every day, as the importance, value, respect and beauty of women are the most obvious things in the universe.
“We are all human beings who deserve equal rights but in the same time we are different. This is what makes us so unique, so let’s learn, explore and progress instead of discriminating and fighting.”
Dublin will witness a number of events for the International Women’s Day centenary. One of the best will be hosted by the African women’s network AkiDwA, which is inviting women to join their celebrations at the Temple Bar Hotel on Fleet Street, from 5pm to 9pm. It’s an opportunity for women young and old, regardless of social status or nationality, to come and network, get inspired and unite.
The evening will include an ‘Amazonian woman’ themed fashion show featuring local Irish designer Claire Garvey and South African-born designer Lisa Marie De Beer with young multinational models from the Runway Models Academy.
International Women’s Day is a day to inspire confidence in women. Let’s all unite in sisterhood by encouraging each other, supporting each other, to carry on the work of the iconic feminists who fought tooth and nail for women’s rights.
Tolu Omoyele is a model based in Dublin