International Women's Day

Parliament house flag post

International Women's Day

Posted 7/03/2012 by Harriet Spinks

Women all over the world have used International Women’s Day, March the 8th, to campaign about issues relevant to their local needs – from gender equity in the workplace to ending poverty and violence against women. Last year marked 100 years of the day’s fascinating and varied history. International Women’s Day continues to celebrate the great achievements of women, and turn our attention to the problems still faced by women.
While in Australia and other Western countries International Women’s Day is usually associated with the United Nations and human rights discourse, women’s day celebrations have a more complicated history. From distinctly socialist beginnings, through expansion across communist nations, International Women’s Day has evolved alongside women’s agendas. The debate over the origin of the day illustrates an interesting balancing act of these agendas.
A long standing myth of the brutal repression of a rally of female textile workers in New York in 1857, and its commemoration in 1907, is a case in point. While it is now accepted that neither event took place, the myth has been described as a “chapter in a long-standing conflict between feminists and communists over whether women have rights beyond those they hold as workers.” Indeed, in the past events were organised by socialist groups and primarily centred on issues surrounding the basic rights of women as workers.
In February 1909, the Socialist Party of America organised a National Woman’s Day and the next year, with Marxist Clara Zetkin at the helm, an International Working Women’s conference in Copenhagen unanimously supported a plan for an international day. In the following years the day was honoured first in Austria, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland and then throughout Europe.
During the First World War women in Russia used the day to campaign for peace. On the 8th of March in 1917 a mass International Women’s Day demonstration in Petrograd demanding ‘bread and peace’ played a crucial role in setting off the February Revolution and overthrow of the Tsar. For Russian women the abdication of the Tsar led to a provisional government which granted them suffrage, and a Soviet state which redefined their role in Russian society. The date of the demonstration became central to International Women’s Day, particularly in communist nations, and in 1949 the Chinese Government declared a half-day holiday for women.

In 1977 the United Nations 105th plenary meeting invited all states to declare a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. Interestingly the resolution stated the day could be on any day of the year “in accordance with their historical and national traditions and customs”. This open-ended resolution was necessary in order to recognise the varied history of International Women’s Day.

In Australia, International Women’s Day had been informally celebrated since the early 1920’s and gained momentum as the Second World War approached. Activists such as Jessie Street campaigned for women’s rights as workers, as women at the time were often paid only 54% of men’s wages. During International Women’s Year in 1975, two years before the UN resolution, large marches marked International Women’s Day. The Whitlam government supported a series of events throughout the year including the controversial Women and Politics Conference in September which examined how women were represented in Australian politics. Although the first women had been elected to Parliament in 1943, in 1980 only 3% of parliamentarians in the House of Representatives, and 10.9% in the Senate, were female.

Representation of women in the Australian parliament is still a pertinent issue. Although women now hold the positions of Prime Minister and Attorney-General for the first time in Australian history, less than one-third of parliamentarians are women. As discussed in a recent Parliamentary Library publication, over the past decade Australia’s ranking has slipped from 21 to 38 in international comparisons of women in national parliaments.

Globally, political under-representation is an even larger problem. Although many countries have now adopted a quota or reserved seat system to support women in politics, only 19% of parliamentarians are women and less than 10% of the world’s leaders are women. Gender imbalance in other positions of power is even more marked; only 13 of the 500 largest corporations in the world employ a female chief executive officer.

Looking beyond the gender imbalance in these formal settings, for women living below or close to the poverty line, the issues of workload and unpaid work are more pressing. The UN reports that “when unpaid work is taken into account, women’s total work hours are longer than men’s in all regions”. In many rural settings both women and girls complete a disproportionate amount of labour, for example women in Malawi spend eight times the amount of time men spend on fetching wood and water. Poor women complete household work and are often also engaged in poorly paid, insecure employment outside the home. These tasks intrude on time spent at school and other pursuits. While significant gains have been made in increasing universal primary education and decreasing gender parity in education, women still account for “two thirds of the world’s 774 million adult illiterates – a proportion that is unchanged over the past two decades”.
International Women’s Day still covers a diverse array of agendas, from women’s rights as workers to their role as members of a family and of a society. This year’s UN theme for International Women’s Day is “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty”. Events in Australia and many other nations are listed at the International Women’s Day website events page.


Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.
Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice




refugees asylum immigration Australian foreign policy Parliament climate change elections women social security Indigenous Australians Australian Bureau of Statistics Employment Sport illicit drugs people trafficking taxation Medicare welfare reform Australian Defence Force higher education welfare policy United Nations Asia income management Middle East criminal law disability Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget health financing gambling school education forced labour aid statistics Australian Electoral Commission WADA emissions trading Australia in the Asian Century steroids detention Private health insurance OECD ASADA labour force transport Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Industrial Relations people smuggling dental health National Disability Insurance Scheme Australian Crime Commission slavery Senate election results Papua New Guinea Australian Public Service International Women's Day corruption Afghanistan Fair Work Act child protection debt federal election 2013 parliamentary procedure poker machines ALP New Zealand Newstart Parenting Payment 43rd Parliament political parties Census constitution High Court skilled migration voting Federal Court terrorist groups Higher Education Loan Program HECS youth paid parental leave Aviation environment foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability customs doping health crime health risks multiculturalism aged care Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery sea farers Special Rapporteur leadership United Kingdom UK Parliament Electoral reform politics banking firearms public policy violence against women domestic violence mental health China ADRV terrorism social media pensions welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation governance public service reform Carbon Pricing Mechanism carbon tax mining military history employer employee fishing by-election European Union same sex relationships international relations coal seam gas family assistance planning United Nations Security Council Australian economy food vocational education and training Drugs Indonesia children codes of conduct terrorist financing money laundering Productivity asylum seekers early childhood education Canada Population Financial sector national security fuel disability employment Tasmania integrity science research and development Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse federal state relations World Trade Organization Australia accountability housing affordability bulk billing water renewable energy children's health health policy Governor-General US economy export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation expertise Senators and Members climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry food labelling Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets health reform Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government local government consumer laws PISA royal commission US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition Parliamentary remuneration health system Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol energy forced marriage rural and regional Northern Territory Emergency Response ministries social citizenship human rights citizenship Defence High Court; Indigenous; Indigenous Australians; Native Title ACT Indigenous education Norfolk Island External Territories emissions reduction fund; climate change child care funding refugees immigration asylum procurement Indigenous health e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament 2015 ABS Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade EU China soft power education Fiji India Disability Support Pension Antarctica Diplomacy by-elections state and territories workers Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery transparency corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation standards NATO Members of Parliament Scottish referendum Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly public health smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine regional unemployment asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies trade unions same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders public housing prime ministers election timetable sitting days First speech defence budget submarines Somalia GDP forestry world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission regulation limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders animal health live exports welfare systems infant mortality middle class welfare honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Constitutional reform referendum Rent Assistance competition policy pharmaceutical benefits scheme obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant homelessness regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Youth Allowance Members suspension citizen engagement policymaking federal election 2010 workplace health and safety Trafficking in Persons Report marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament alcohol Korea rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act entitlements political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing Hung Parliament political education social inclusion Social Inclusion Board maritime early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin Iran sanctions Norway hospitals

Show all
Show less
Back to top