International Women’s Day was celebrated around the world on March 8. The day began at the height of the Women’s Suffrage movement in the early 1900s.
In March of 1911, more than a million people took part in 300 rallies throughout Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany. demanding the right to vote and to hold public office and protesting against employment sex discrimination.
The following week, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York caught fire killing 146 young workers. Many were immigrants. The incident not only bolstered the fight for women’s rights in the workplace but for workers’ rights in general. It was common practice for employers to lock factory workers inside to keep them from sneaking breaks, and theft, and prevent union organizers from entering and communicating with employees.
In 1917, Russian women began to celebrate it too, in protest over food shortages poor living conditions and World War I.
The women of San Juan Island also stood up, voicing their desire for the right to vote. A 21-year-old Gladys Guard Madden, and Andrew Hansen, were chosen by the District Boosters’ Club to debate in favor of “Resolved, That Women Shall Vote,” granting the women of Washington State the right to vote. Speaking against the proposal were Josephine Tucker and Edward King.
The Friday Harbor High School Literary Club also presented a debate on the topic of women’s suffrage. Speaking in favor were Frances Mullis and Evelyn Culver. Speaking against it were Harold Broder and Claire Tift.
Opinions equally represented both perspectives were published in both the Journal and The Islander. although the Friday Harbor Journal leaned toward more conservative views while the San Juan Islander represented more liberal views.
On November 1910, San Juan County vote tally was 278 in favor of Washington granting women the right to vote, and 140 votes against it. Washington became the fifth state to pass such legislation.
In 1920, Amendment 19 ratified women’s right to vote nationally, although it is important to note that women of color continue to struggle to access that right.
The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day in 1975, which had been proclaimed the International Women’s Year. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as an official UN holiday for women’s rights and world peace. It has since been commemorated annually by the UN and much of the world, with each year’s observance centered on a particular theme or issue within women’s rights.
Around the world, the fight for the rights of women continues. March 4, 2007, International Women’s Day sparked violence in Tehran, Iran. Police beat hundreds of men and women who were planning a rally. Dozens of women were arrested, and some were released after several days of solitary confinement and interrogation. Several more community activists were released weeks later, ending a fifteen-day hunger strike.
In the United States, women’s rights took a step backward as the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade sparking protests across the nation. So the work is ongoing.
This year, International Women’s Day’s theme was “Embrace Equity.” Etymologically, the root word they share is aequus, meaning “even” or “fair” or “equal”
However, equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities while equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.
Equity in women’s rights means realizing that women, as a group, are diverse and that policies benefiting white women, for example, may not benefit women of color given both historical and current inequalities.
By embracing equity, and all women, as International Women’s Day did this year, perhaps we can make even further progress toward securing the rights of women globally.