8th March, International Women’s Day: Reflections Across Europe


International Women’s Day is being celebrated (or angrily embraced) by millions of women around the world today.

More than a century old, the first national women’s observance day occurred in New York in 1909. European human rights movements were quick to follow.

In Germany, Russia, Denmark, and Great Britain, socialist-oriented groups, as well as suffragette movements, took to the streets to campaign for the right to vote and extensively improved employment rights.

The first international women’s day occurred in 1913 in pre-revolutionary Russia, then again in 1914 in pre-war Germany. The iconic March 8th date then became embedded as the emerging international calendar date for this campaign event.

As Communism and socialist movements came to power in East and Central Europe, seizing power ruthlessly in many cases, this date became almost iconic within the socialist calendar.

A century later, in the so-called ‘free’ societies of western Europe and America, ‘IWD’ (as it’s become popularly dubbed by the linguistic minimalists of social media) has become hugely celebrated.

Yet, in the west, women have the vote. Women have the right to fight alongside men in war. Women often outperform men in Higher Education. Women jobseekers and entrepreneurs often receive preferment by way of government grants or automatic interview rights. Women run countries and get elected as presidents or prime ministers in many countries (although, interestingly, not in the US or France).

Is it, therefore, time for IWD to become slightly more positively framed?
Celebrations today across Europe reflect an interesting shift in our societies.

IWD in East and Central Europe, where the tradition can nowadays be said to be authentic and historically-rooted, are more about celebrating women as the wondrous human being: the wife, the sister, the mother.

The days of frenetic socialist haranguing against misogynistic men, and their representative (or otherwise) male political leaders, are long gone.

Whereas in the wealthy and gender-egalitarian west (namely, west Europe and the US) exactly the reverse is happening.

Wealthy, well-fed and socially-confident women (and men) are taking to the streets to demand their rights as if there remains a major deficit … the famines of Africa, the incursions of Palestine, the wall of Mexico … all today side issues, it seems.

Increasingly it seems that these horrendous human rights issues are now for so many, merely cosmetic political batons that can be picked up and discarded at whim. Longstanding issues of female suffering, such as FGM, and employee exploitation are now virtually ignored by most mainstream media organisations and campaigns.

When these atrocities involve females, they are not even raised on March 8th.
And so today, Germany’s female prime minister has designated IWD as a public holiday. President Macron in France has unveiled a “feminism in diplomacy” prize which will honour, among some very appropriate causes, a bizarre new commitment to “female economic emancipation”. In Madrid, overtly-political marches take place to (rightly) condemn gender inequality.

As Emmeline Pankhurst so splendidly said: “We have to free half of the human race, the women so that they can help to free the other half.”

It’s just a shame about the maths.

The quest for human rights should never be halved.