International Women’s Day

Different women, the same utopia



Perhaps the claim that history is written by the victors can be challenged… but what cannot be disputed is that the sisters who died almost one hundred years ago protesting against low wages and appalling working conditions did not get to write it: they did not live to tell it.


Historians are divided as to the origins of the March 8 celebration: some believe it dates back to 1908 and the fire in a New York textile factory where a spontaneous demonstration of textile women workers broke out; others link it to a 1909 textile strike in which both men and women workers participated; and still others have different theories about the origin.


Much later on in the 20th century, the year 1975 was declared International Women’s Year by the United Nations (UN), and ever since then International Women’s Day has been celebrated on March 8. What nobody can deny is that that day is intimately tied to women workers.


Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the 1908 events, and if those women workers could see today’s living and working conditions they would probably acknowledge that many of the achievements exceed by far the utopia they fought for then. But they would also be surprised to find that in some places abhorrent working conditions still prevail.


Women also suffer other –old and new– injustices, such as inequality of wages between men and women, disparity of opportunities, the over- burdening of women with domestic and family duties, their greater vulnerability to diseases such as HIV/AIDS, the increased occurrence of repetitive strain injuries (RSI), and the growing violence against girls and women. This last problem still constitutes a devastating reality for many, a crime against women that is sometimes perpetrated by the State itself, in addition to strangers and employers, fellow workers, and even members of their own families. On this matter, the UN has stated: “violence against women has yet to receive the priority attention and the resources needed in order to address the issue at all levels with the necessary seriousness and visibility.” In this sense, the proposed theme for this year is: "Ending impunity for violence against women and girls.


The women who died in 1908 had three characteristics that made them victims of discrimination and violence: they were women, they were young and they were immigrants, more than sufficient “reasons” to incite employer and police violence. Today women are still victims of violence: domestic violence, violence caused by poverty, unemployment, economic uncertainty, discrimination, and disease.


That is why this celebration has NOTHING to do with “demanding that women be given the same rights as men.” It is about the utopia of a world where differences are respected, where women are allowed to be agents of their own lives, where men are not held as the model to achieve, where all humans are allowed to be who they want to be and live as they want to live, without having their fate determined by the place they were born in or the gender they were born with.


With one year to go for the one hundredth anniversary of the 1908 events, let us continue to strive for the utopia of a more decent, more just, freer and more peaceful society for all men and women.



© Rel-UITA

March 8, 2007



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