International Women’s Day: 107 years of struggle for gender parity

The last century has seen vast improvements for women’s rights, both in Canada and internationally. With the women’s suffrage moment, more political representation and the ability to lobby for positive change and issues relevant to women at the Federal level moving forward.

On March 8, over 25 countries and millions of women worldwide will be celebrating International Women’s Day, an event not only about celebrating the past and how far women have come, but also an attempt to rally women in the ongoing struggle for absolute gender parity.

Echoing the overall sentiments of the movement, this year’s theme is “Pledge for Parity” a platform that according to many feminists, has ceased to be considered a serious issue in many industrializing nations.

According to a report issued by The World Economic Forum (WEF), gender parity will not be achieved until 2095; a report that a year later was pushed back even further to 2133, until such issues are addressed on a global scale.

According to the organizers of IWD, they are asking for those who support #PledgeForParity to help take legitimate steps in achieving gender parity by helping women achieve their ambitions, calling for more gender-balanced leadership both in the workplace as well as in political representation and also by creating a more inclusive culture for women internationally.

In Edmonton on March 6, women met for the annual IWD march held at Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park. According to the coordinators, the event is held on the weekend prior to March 8 in order to allow for more people to participate. Ultimately, the event was a “call to end exploitation and oppression of all women” both locally and internationally.

This marks the sixth rally held by the Edmonton International Women’s Day Organizing Committee, a grassroots organization comprising of women and men involved throughout the local community and various organizations that advocate women’s rights.

Moving forward, the group itself has pledged to try and make women’s rights more of a year-round issue, aiming to establish more events than the March 6 annual Walk.

“Since we last marched on International Women’s Day, the ten-year long Harper government and the 44-year long Progressive Conservative era in Alberta have ended and we salute the contributions and leadership of women in bringing this about and stopping some of the worst assaults on our rights as women, as workers, as migrants and on the public services that our families need and deserve,”stated Merryn Edwards, one of the event’s coordinators in a press release.

“Nevertheless, we know that many women’s lives have not changed for the better since these historic elections and many women’s lives are even more unstable and uncertain,” Edwards said. “That’s why we must continue to work to bring about the fundamental change we need.”

Following the Sunday event, on March 8 during International Women’s Day, the group will hold an event in Edmonton aimed at engaging women and supporters in developing plans for the future of women’s rights moving forward.

International Women’s Day rally held in Toronto, Ontario (2015)/ cpcml

International Women’s Day rally held in Toronto, Ontario (2015)/ cpcml

In the spirit of moving forward with women’s rights, it is important to look back at the progress made by the collective efforts of countless women and men in lobbying for change.

In 1909, the first observance of International Women’s day occurred in New York and was organized by the Socialist Party of America to pay respect to the 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.

In the following year, the first International Women’s Conference was held in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was at this event that German socialist Luise Zietz proposed the establishment of an International Women’s Day to promote equality and the women’s suffrage movement. This was seconded by Clara Zetkin, another prominent figure in the early establishment of the women’s rights movement.

A year later, IWD was observed in Denmark, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, with approximately one million people taking part in the first official event in which participants demanded suffrage, the right to hold public office and an end to employment discrimination.

After this, the event started to gain international attention, being celebrated by Russian women in 1913 and British women in 1914 amidst controversy and scandal. In 1914, British suffragette leader Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested outside of the Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square, London, during a march protesting women’s right to vote.

In Russia, these early IWD demonstrations in St. Petersburg helped in many ways to initiate the February Revolution; the first in a series of socio-political re-structuring that would depose the Czar and ultimately install a provisional government which would eventually be replaced by the U.S.S.R.

Finally, after nearly 50 years of protesting, the United Nations officially celebrated the event in 1975. This was followed by the General Assembly adopting a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace, that is to be observed on any day that each member state finds culturally significant in regards to its national traditions.

Despite seeing significant improvements both locally and internationally with women’s rights in regards to equality, emancipation, representation, visibility and legislative equality, the battle is still far from over. Currently, women face severe inequalities in regards to poverty, healthcare education, violence and sexual assault, leaving many women in vulnerable positions throughout the world.

One in three women experience violence in her life time as well as every ten minutes an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence. Further, of the 35 million people living with HIV, over two million are aged 10 to 19, 56 per cent of which are women. This, coupled with the fact that one in three women worldwide aged 20 to 24 were child brides, suggests that the struggle for gender parity is far from over if we are to ever achieve true equality.

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