International Women’s Day is recognized as an official holiday in Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. You might notice that the US is not on this list. But, this has not always been the case.

In fact,  it was because of a demonstration held by 15,000 women garment workers, mostly immigrants from Eastern Europe, Italy and Ireland advocating for better working conditions in New York City on March 8,1909 that inspired socialist women led by German Socialist Clara Zetkin and her comrades to unanimously pass a resolution establishing International Women’s Day at the Second International Socialist Conference in Copenhagen in 1910. The idea was to have a day to commemorate women’s work and struggle for equal rights while reminding the world that women’s rights are essential to human prosperity and that equality will not be reached with the exclusion of women’s demands. The first celebration was held in 1911, and in 1977 the United Nations and many countries adopted a resolution that established March 8 as the official International Women’s Day. [1]

This year, on March 8th, celebrations happened all over the world. People took the streets and stages to celebrate those who have played important roles in advancing women’s rights as well as to put forward demands that remain to be met. In the US, socialist organizations and women’s rights organizations organized panel discussions, held demonstrations to end men’s violence against women and gave awards to women who have dedicated their lives to ending gender-based discrimination and patriarchy.

Though International Women’s Day was well celebrated here, it is important to ask why the US refuses to officially acknowledge it. Currently, the only national holidays celebrating individuals in the US commemorate men and their achievements. So, in a country that claims to have a progressive stance on gender equity, it should be jarring to see that a day recognizing the central role of women’s labor and women’s struggle for workers’ rights is completely ignored.

But, in light of the US’s other actions, such as completely cutting abortion coverage from healthcare reform such as the Public Option; never passing the Equal Rights Amendment (introduced by women’s groups in 1923; which affirms that women and men have equal rights under the law), and being one of seven countries not to ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), maybe governmental disregard for workers’ struggles should not come as a surprise. After all, International Women’s Day began with a socialist perspective. Included in this perspective as well as CEDAW are full reproductive rights for women and requirements for the legislation of equal pay for equal work. As an economic system, socialism runs directly counter to US capitalism, which benefits financially from women’s underpaid, and often unpaid, labor in factories, offices and the home.

Around the world this day was recognized by organizations and governments dedicated to working towards comprehensive human rights. In Cienfuegos, Cuba students celebrated the life of Clara Zetkin by planting crops as part of their voluntary work.[2] Guatemalan women of different indigenous backgrounds demonstrated by  calling for an end to violence against women. In Central America a total of 1600 women were murdered in 2009 and of those 700 were killed in Guatemala[3]. Women in the region also spoke against domestic violence, which affects millions of women in Latin America and around the globe.

In Ecuador people took many initiatives to celebrate March 8. The government of Rafael Correa took this opportunity to announce the start of the campaign “Wake up Ecuador – chauvinism is violence!” and to put forward the Political Agenda for Gender Equality[4]. One of the main problems this campaign seeks to attack is that of men’s violence against women, which like in many countries, affects 8 of every 10 women.[5] Correa also highlighted the significant advancements women have made through struggle in the Ecuadorian government. Thirteen of the thirty Ministries are headed by women and officials of the Judiciary branch must participate in government-sponsored gender equality trainings which teach them how to better implement equal rights. This is a significant step in the right direction in a place where, like the US, men have traditionally held positions of power and have used these positions to their own benefit.

In addition, celebrations were held by groups of working women around the country. It is important to remember that this day is not only to commemorate women, but that it has a strong root in labor movement. This is why working women, both paid and unpaid, of many races and professions gathered in different cities and rural townships to show how their work is undervalued in a patriarchal society. In the words of an indigenous woman “today is the day where we evaluate our achievements, and assess how much further we need to go.” Additionally, these gatherings celebrated the lives of women who had key roles in advancing not only the position of women, but society itself.

One of these women is an indigenous labor leader with the name of Transito Amaguaña who was born in 1909.  She grew up in a marginalized rural area in the Province of Pichincha in Ecuador where most indigenous people worked for rich hacenderos or land holders who abused them in many ways.[6] Her humble beginnings were no prediction of the important role she would play in creating one of the first agrarian labor unions in the country. She organized and participated in protests and was an active member of the newly established communist party.  Amaguaña in the 1940s, ahead of her time, also created community schools that taught both Spanish and Quichua, an indigenous language, which have become models for today’s education.[7] Her life is of great significance, not only for Ecuadorian women but to women around the world.  Amaguaña was born in a society that was not only patriarchal but where indigenous people had very little rights and absolutely no political power. Her struggle and accomplishments in the beginning of the 20th century should be an inspiration to us all.

Hopefully soon, the US will take a step to start on the path towards a more just society by recognizing women’s work. Not only are women’s rights human rights, but when conditions improve for the most oppressed and marginalized workers, they improve for us all.

– Ana Maria & Rakhee

[1] http://www.un.org/womenwatch/feature/iwd/

[2] http://www.rcm.cu/noticias/2010/marzo/08/clarazetkin.htm

[3] http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jw-HvyaTqYMilyn6W6mNUwPhi_Qw

[4] http://www.prensa-latina.cu/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=168742&Itemid=1

[5] http://www.elciudadano.gov.ec/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10648:ministerio-de-inclusion-economica-y-social-lanzo-campana-contra-el-machismo-en-esmeraldas-&catid=4:social&Itemid=45

[6] http://www.edufuturo.com/educacion.php?c=2457

[7] http://www.edufuturo.com/educacion.php?c=2457