March the 8th 2011 marks the centenary of the first International Womens Day, a major day of global celebration of women. So what’s all the fuss about? Surely in the 21st century we have achieved the emancipation that the suffragettes struggled for in the early 1900s? Like many women of my generation I have a decent level of education, flexible work which allows me to spend quality time with my kids and a loving relationship with a partner who treats me with respect. But it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come over the last hundred years. Back in 1911 when International Womens Day (IWD) was first honoured, over one million women and men were attending rallies to campaign for the basic women’s rights that we take for granted today. They campaigned for the right of women to work in decent conditions, to vote, to be educated and hold public office and these activists helped put an end to discrimination. I feel very lucky to be born at a time and place where I can take all of these things for granted.
For so many women across the globe, poverty, displacement and atrocious working conditions are still rife and so the fight continues. To fuel our consumerist desire for summer veg all year round, sweatshop manufactured jeans for a fiver and countless gadgets that end up in landfill within 6 months there are families living in horrendous conditions all over the world. For me, International Womens Day is about making the change to a more sustainable lifestyle, being aware of the effects of globalisation, climate change and the insanity of our dependence on fossil fuels. By getting together with my friends I can raise a bit of cash to help women and children in poverty. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a reason to celebrate.
The UN describes International Women’s Day as “the story of ordinary women as makers of history; it is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men. In ancient Greece, Lysistrata initiated a sexual strike against men in order to end war; during the French Revolution, Parisian women calling for “liberty, equality, fraternity” marched on Versailles to demand women’s suffrage.” By acting locally while thinking globally I honestly believe we can make a difference and help the women of the future to live a brighter, happier future.