KVINFO/6.3.2009 The initiative to celebrate an International Women’s Day was taken during the International Socialist Congress in Copenhagen in 1910 by the German feminist and socialist, Clara Zetkin.
In August 1910, the second International Socialist Congress was held in Copenhagen. At this Congress, trade union delegates and representatives from socialist parties met. In the days preceding the Congress, a Socialist Women’s Congress was held with the participation of approximately 100 delegates from 17 countries. All participants belonged to either trade unions or political parties. The Congress took place in the Worker’s Assembly Hall in Copenhagen.
At the Congress, Clara Zetkin, the leader of the International Women’s Secretariat, suggested that an International Women’s Day be established. In connection with the establishment of the Women’s Day, a resolution was prepared which, among other things, read: ”In agreement with the class-conscious political and trade union organisations of the proletariat in each country, the socialist women in all countries shall organise a Women's Day every year. First of all, the Women’s Day shall have the aim of achieving universal suffrage for women. This claim shall be in line with the socialist understanding of the entire women's rights issue. The Women’s Day shall be international in its nature and must be prepared meticulously."
In practice, there were four main issues which the movement wished to fight and agitate for:
• The fight for universal suffrage for women
• The fight against war
• The fight for care for mother and child
• The fight against price rises
In addition to this, the movement also wished to intensify the cooperation between the organised women and female party members in the individual countries so that they could join in fighting for the above issues.
There is disagreement as to whether the 1910 Congress established a date for commemoration of the International Women’s Day. Some sources claim that this was the case, but in the years succeeding the 1910 Congress, the Women’s Day was scheduled for different dates - most often on Sundays - since this was the working women's only day off.
In 1915, the international cooperation collapsed due to the war, and it was only in 1921, after the International Women’s Secretariat was reconstituted with Clara Zetkin as the leader, that 8 March became the fixed date to commemorate the International Women's Day. The reason for deciding on 8 March is believed to be due to one or more of the following events:
• The American textile workers started their strike on 8 March 1857 and went on strike again on 8 March 1908. The women who participated in these strikes fought for higher wages and better working conditions.
• On 8 March 1917, Russian women went on strike. Some see this as a run-up to the Russian revolution.
• There were also major demonstrations on 8 March 1914 in Russia.
The International Women’s Day is now celebrated internationally, but Denmark, Germany, Austria and Switzerland were the first countries to commemorate the Women’s Day in 1911. In 1912, Sweden, France and Holland followed and in 1913, Russia and Czechoslovakia also commemorated the International Women’s Day for the first time.
Sources: KVINFO, The Danish Centre for Research on Women and Gender in collaboration with the Goethe Institute.