By Jack Bourassa
International Women’s Day (IWD), March 8, is around the corner and I’m eagerly counting the days. As a man celebrating this day, I am aware that I am an ally. At the same time, I believe that we are all affected. To all my sisters: this is your day, let’s celebrate it together. Let’s remind ourselves of the victories achieved, take a deep breath and smile with gratitude and thank all women who are struggling to make this world better for all of us whether in our families, workplaces, communities, nationally and internationally.
Millions of women and men around the world commemorate this day— events, celebrations, rallies and actions vary from region to region and country to country. They all share one goal in common: celebrate women’s political and social achievements despite obstacles. However, this day is also a day to take action and protest the inequalities and discrimination women face. Solidarity actions differ from one place to another. If you are a man who wants to be in solidarity, listen to the women in your lives and don’t make assumptions. Remember that on this day, you’re an ally in solidarity, and they will guide you on actions to take.
As a union activist and leader, I believe that IWD is one of the most important events in the labour movement. To understand this, let’s reflect back on our history. Known as National Woman’s Day, it was first observed in the United States on February 28 in 1909 in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions. Known as the Uprising of 20,000, brave women staged a massive strike against Triangle Shirtwaist and other sweatshops. Later, this movement inspired annual rallies and demonstrations to protest poor working conditions and demanded workplace and safety regulations while remembering those who sacrificed and lost their lives.
In 1910, women delegates from 17 countries met in Copenhagen to establish a Women’s Day, international in colour. The following year, one million women and men attended rallies demanding the following: women’s right to vote and to hold public office, to work and to vocational training, and an end to discrimination on the job. Later, IWD rallies and demonstrations protested WWI— turning to be a powerful peace movement. In 1917, women in Russia protested and also held a strike for “Bread and Peace.” Later, the date was chosen as March 8 to celebrate IWD. The United Nations recognized March 8 as International Women’s Day in 1975. It is important to read about the history and to know the importance of those progressive actions and their positive influence around the world.
Every year, women activists come with an international theme. The United Nations also have themes. Nationally, women chose to celebrate and endorse those themes or come up with other ones. Locally, some women might have different causes to focus on. Regardless of what actions any group is taking, they all would collectively benefit us. Taking the message of IWD with us throughout the year is as much for men as it is for women.
Women who protested the working conditions in 1909 were not only doing it for themselves. Better working conditions for them meant better working conditions for all. The strike proved to be a pivotal event in history of the labour movement. And women who turned IWD to a peace movement were helping the world become better and safer— for all, including the future generation.
There are victories to celebrate, but we should not forget that gender inequality and discrimination still exists. Sadly, they are happening in our own backyard and not only in distant places at the other end of the world.
Are you still wondering how will you celebrate IWD? I’m not promoting any theme, but wherever you are, there are some actions that I believe will help us stay in solidarity with each other:
- Read about women’s rights history and struggles
- Be informed and help raise awareness
- Listen and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re not sure how to help or be an ally
- Attend events in your communities
- Don’t be a bystander when you witness sexism, gender-based violence, harassment or any form of discrimination
- Sign petitions that demand an end to discrimination or help narrow the gender inequality gap
And to all the women I know, and those I do not: Happy International Women’s Day. Let’s celebrate it together. Gender equality is the core of healthy communities, let’s all work together to achieve this.
This column originally appeared in Yellowknifer on March 6, 2019.