Each year on the arrival of this day, I always hear people, mostly men, who cannot seem to understand what this commemoration is all about. They ask why this day is celebrated, seeing as to how women always ‘wanted equality’, and this day only shows up the fact that they don’t really want that equality, as it promotes the idea that women are ‘special.’
First of all, equality is a fundamental right. It is not something women ‘wanted’ but something which was always theirs, even though, unfortunately, it was denied. As such, the male component of the population were never denied the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to have a say in Parliament, etc, merely because of their gender. They have never had to protest or prove themselves as worthwhile, merely because they possessed different sexual reproductive organs. They don’t have to try and make family members or people in authority understand that just because they can bear children, does not mean that they are any less intellectually capable or unable to make their own decisions.
Women’s Day celebrates and acknowledges the struggle which more than half the population of the world (since there are statistically more females than males) had to go through, throughout the centuries, changing social structures and ideologies, in order to be given the rights of individual human beings who have a say and can make a difference.
Unfortunately, this struggle is still going on in many countries and cultures around the world, and Women’s Day is also there to remind us of these women, who unlike us, calmly sipping coffee while browsing the paper in our comfortable office at work, are not allowed to work, are not given equal wages and are not allowed to own a house in their name or to make a choice on how to educate their children, among so many other things.
The earliest Women’s Day observance did not take place on 8th March, but was held on 28th February, 1909 in New York and it was organised by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which was once one of the largest labour unions in the United States, one of the first U.S. unions to have a primarily female membership and a key player in the labour history of the 1920s and 1930s.
While Women’s Day was an official holiday in the Soviet Union, having been decreed a non-working day in 1965 by the USSR, in the West, International Women’s Day was first observed as a popular event after 1977 when the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim 8th March as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.
International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In many countries, like Malta, people seem to have diminished the idea and thought behind this commemoration, ignoring it completely, or else relegating it to a general mixture of Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, instead of treating it as a celebration towards women’s economic, political and social achievements, as well as a day promoting the acknowledgement and help aimed towards those women who are still struggling for their voice to be heard today.
People seem to believe that the struggle is over – they couldn’t be more wrong. One could mention fifteen year old Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani, who on a normal afternoon on 9th October, 2012 boarded her school bus in the Northwest Pakistani district of Swat. A gunman asked for her by name, then pointed a pistol at her and fired three shots to her head. Malala miraculously survived and after being in a critical condition for some time, she eventually recuperated. She was shot because the governing power in that province at the time, prohibited female children from going to school.
In July of that year, Malala spoke at the headquarters of the United Nations to call for worldwide access to education. She was given the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle against the suppression of women’s and children’s rights, becoming the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.
International Women’s day is a battle-flag, a tribute, a commemoration – it is the acknowledgement we give to all those women who battled against oppression in order for us to be able to live a normal life. Most important of all, it is a beacon for those women who are still struggling to be recognised for who they are.