I was thrilled to be asked to contribute to the Code of the Gentleman as we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8th March. I feel grateful that it has become part of our culture and our way of life, it has been observed since the early 1900s, which was a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialised world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies. Allow me a little history and insights…
In 1908 there was great unrest and critical debate was occurring amongst women. Women’s oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Then, in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.
In accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman’s Day (NWD) was observed across the United States on 28 February. Women continued to celebrate NWD on the last Sunday of February until 1913.
A second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen in 1910. A woman named Clara Zetkin (who was leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women’s Day was the result.
Following the decision agreed at Copenhagen in 1911, International Women’s Day (IWD) was honoured for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However, less than a week later on 25 March, the tragic ‘Triangle Fire’ in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women’s Day events. 1911 also saw women’s ‘Bread and Roses‘ campaign.
On the eve of the First World War, campaigning for peace, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February 1913. That same year, following discussions, International Women’s Day was transferred to 8 March and this day has remained the global date for International Women’s Day ever since. In 1914 more women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express women’s solidarity. On the last Sunday of February 1917, Russian women began a strike for “bread and peace” in response to the death of over 2 million Russian soldiers in war. Opposed by political leaders, the women continued to strike until four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. The date the women’s strike commenced was Sunday 23 February on the Julian calendar then in use in Russia. This day on the Gregorian calendar, in use elsewhere, was 8 March.
Since its birth in the socialist movement, International Women’s Day has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike. For decades, IWD has grown from strength to strength. For many years the United Nations has held an annual IWD conference to coordinate international efforts for women’s rights and participation in social, political and economic processes. 1975 was designated as ‘International Women’s Year‘ by the United Nations. Women’s organisations and governments around the world have also observed IWD annually on 8 March by holding large-scale events that honour women’s advancement and while diligently reminding us of the continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life.
IWD is now an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers. The new millennium has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women’s and society’s thoughts about women’s equality and emancipation.
Many from a younger generation feel that ‘all the battles have been won for women’ while many feminists from the 1970s know only too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy. With more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women’s visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one might think that women have gained true equality. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that for men. However, great improvements have been made. We do have female astronauts and prime ministers, schoolgirls are welcomed into university, women can work and have a family, and women have real choices. And so the tone and nature of IWD has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives.
Annually on 8th March, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements. A global web of rich and diverse local activity connects women from all around the world ranging from political rallies, business conferences, government activities and networking events through to local women’s craft markets, theatrical performances, fashion parades and more. Many global corporations have also started to more actively support IWD by running their own internal events and through supporting external ones. For example, search engine and media giant Google some years changes its search engine logo to an IWD related one. Year on year, IWD is certainly increasing in status. The United States even designates the whole month of March as ‘Women’s History Month’. So make a difference, think globally and act locally!
Sadly, I believe domestic violence has been the driving force to its raised profile in more recent times, and how despicable that women have been raped, hurt and killed. Make it Happen is the 2015 theme; encouraging effective action and recognising women. Equality also features heavily, as it should, as we still live in a time where there is a massive disparity in pay for the same if not often less effort. It took me a long time, working hard in the corporate sector, to truly realise that probably until I ran my own business others would receive more rewards often for less work than myself due to their gender and more often with half my talent. Regardless of my efforts and integrity. Having run my own business for four years I can report we have had highs and lows, but we are constantly learning from them. We have all worked really hard to move our brand forward, from what was an ambitions start up in pretty dark times, we have focused on the things we do best; great service, client relations, and just being nice to do business with. There is no place for arrogance or chauvinism in our company; they are things we cannot abide. As I was always told, it’s nice to be nice and you just never know who you will meet on the way up and on the way down. I have in fact had so many people help me in return for the times I have helped them over the years. We shouldn’t do things just because there is a personal gain, we should do things because we can. If you see an injustice, have the courage to speak up, if you can give praise – do. Support one another through this journey we are all on.
Having worked very hard on our social media campaign, we were thrilled on the 6th August to receive this note in response to one of our many tweets.
@PerfectAttire We love making the perfect suit tailored to fit every person perfectly to look and feel fabulous #WOW
|@Jacqueline_Gold Hi there! Congratulations again on becoming one of Jacqueline Gold’s Women on Wednesday! WOW is in recognition of being Women of the Week.|
When you work for yourself you don’t have the comfort of a salary, or indeed recognition; sometimes everyone else gets paid and not you. You often don’t have all the trimmings and support of a huge staff, but what you do have is control. You learn very quickly from any mistakes you make, try only to make them once and that the freedom from small minded mentality is hugely liberating. So whether it’s a day, a week or a year, let’s celebrate women. Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.
Make every day International Women’s Day.