Jayaben Desai, one of the mostly British-Asian women out on strike at the Grunwick factory in 1977, pictured on the picket line.
Image Credt: Photograph by Getty Images.
It was in 1857, that on 8 March in New York City, garments workers went on strike. Suffering horrific conditions, endless hours and low pay, they took to the streets demanding better money and working conditions.
Dispersed after being attacked by police, the women continued to fight and from their movement the first women’s labour unions were established.
In the early 20th century, their movement blossomed. New York City’s streets again saw women march demanding shorter hours, better pay, an end to child labour and the right to vote in 1908. Leading labour organisers sought to strengthen the movement internationally.
At the Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen in 1910, Clara Zetkin asked over 100 women from 17 countries – representing unions, socialist parties and women’s working clubs – to pass a motion for an International Working Women’s Day.
They did so, unanimously, and the so International Women’s Day was born.
Zetkin, in conjunction with other well-known women from the movement including Rosa Luxembourg and Theresa Malkiel focussed on the conditions that dictated women’s lives.
They organised with women working in inhumane conditions for long hours and no pay.
Women who also went home to complete their “second shift” – cleaning, cooking, childrearing and household managing; women who were the engine keeping families, communities, companies and countries running, but whose work received little pay and even less recognition.
Women take part in a “pans meeting” at Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Spain as part of a feminist strike called by the 8M Commission, an umbrella group of feminist organisations. ‘If we stop, the world stops’, is their slogan.
Photograph: Juanjo Martin/EPA
International Women’s Day first emerged from the activities of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe.
1909: The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on 28 February. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions.
1910: The Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, established a Women’s Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women’s rights and to build support for achieving universal suffrage for women.
The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance.
1911: As a result of the Copenhagen initiative, International Women’s Day was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies.
In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded women’s rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.
1913-1914: International Women’s Day also became a mechanism for protesting World War I. As part of the peace movement, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February. Elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8 March of the following year, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with other activists.
1917: Against the backdrop of the war, women in Russia again chose to protest and strike for “Bread and Peace” on the last Sunday in February (which fell on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar).
Four days later, the Czar abdicated and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.
Since those early years, International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.
Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.
Defiant, farcical, profane: These are the words that come to mind when attempting to describe the street art that photographer Yoav Litvin has chronicled on the streets of New York for the past few years.
Semi-sanctioned, quasi-legal, or downright illegal, the works that draw Litvin’s eye—those created by alternative painters, graffiti artists, collagists and muralists—are compiled in his new book, Outdoor Gallery: New York City (Ginko Press).
The resulting collection makes a compelling case that ephemeral street art is a cultural treasure.
Although society tends to look at these outdoor works as vandalism, Litvin takes a longer view.
The book profiles 46 artist, mostly pseudonymous personalities—Toofly, Miyok, Icy and Sot, Gaia, Kram and Bunny M being just a few—to prove street art’s current wave impacts contemporary aesthetics just as powerfully as the Salon de Refusés did in the nineteenth century.
Much of that has to do with exposure: While posting on private and city-owned surfaces ensures these works won’t be around for long, the street provides enviable visibility while they last.
These days the format is distinguished by its rebellious edge, too: As Litvin told me, “I can appreciate the rush and risks artists take when putting up pieces in public.
I also really admire their generosity in taking these risks to share their vision.”
Constance Georgine Markievicz, known as Countess Markievicz.
(Born: 4 February 1868 – Died 15 July 1927) was an Irish Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil politician, revolutionary nationalist, suffragette and socialist.
A founder member of Fianna Éireann, Cumann na mBan and the Irish Citizen Army, she took part in the Easter Rising in 1916, when Irish republicans attempted to end British rule and establish an Irish Republic.
She was sentenced to death but this was reduced on the grounds of her sex.
On 28 December 1918, she was the first woman elected to the British House of Commons, though she did not take her seat and, along with the other Sinn Féin TDs, formed the first Dáil Éireann.
She was also the second woman in the world to hold a cabinet position (Minister for Labour of the Irish Republic, 1919–1922).
Born in 1847, Millicent Fawcett joined the London Suffrage Committee, in 1868 and in 1869 she spoke at the first public pro-suffrage meeting to be held in London.
The death of her husband on 6 November 1884 made Millicent temporarily withdraw from public life. She sold both family homes and moved into the house of Agnes Garrett, her sister. She resumed work in 1885, and began to concentrate on politics.
After the death of Lydia Becker, she became the leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), the main suffragist organisation in Britain. She held this post until 1919, a year after the first women had been granted the vote.
After that, she left the suffrage campaign for the most part, and devoted much of her time to writing books.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, while the WSPU (Emily Pankhurst Suffragettes) ceased all of their activities to focus on the war effort, Fawcett’s NUWSS did not.
This was largely because as the organisation was significantly less militant than the WSPU, it contained many more pacifists, and general support for the war within the organisation was weaker.
The WSPU, in comparison, was called jingoistic as a result of its leaders’ strong support for the war. While Fawcett was not a pacifist, she risked dividing the organisation if she ordered a halt to the campaign, and the diverting of NUWSS funds from the government, as the WSPU had done.
The NUWSS continued to campaign for the vote during the war, and used the situation to their advantage by pointing out the contribution women had made to the war effort in their campaigns.
Fawcett is considered instrumental in gaining the vote for six million British women aged over 30-years of age in 1918.
Gladice Keevil campaigning at the Manchester North West byelection in 1908. Photograph: Heritage Images/Getty Images
The fight for the right to vote for all was a long one, with many ideological – and physical – battles along the way.
A century after women got the vote, many people are still disenfranchised
A century on from one of the key legislative moments for the cause, the 1918 Representation of the People Act, we asked readers to share stories about their families’ involvement in the movement that eventually led to universal suffrage, and to tell us what it means to them today.
As part of our coverage of the anniversary, here are three of their stories.