Reena Acharya Basnet
BOD Member, NEFSCUN
Every year on the 8th of March, International Women’s Day is celebrated across the globe. It is a day to recognize female’s achievement encouraging everyone to stand up for women’s rights and gender equality. Throughout the history, women have had to fight for the rights and freedom they enjoy today. It might come out as a surprise that only a hundred and fifty years earlier women did not have access to basic human rights that we now take for granted such as: the liberty to vote, receive medical attention, or even gather around in public. The list goes on and on.
So the question is: how did it all change? Let’s go deeper into it. On 23rd May of 1908, around 15000 women march-past around in the Chicago street of New York city protesting against their right to vote and higher working hours compared to male companions. The first National Women’s Day was celebrated in the USA, which was declared by the Socialist party of America, on February 23, 1909.The crowd that day was addressed by Charlotte Perkins Gliman. There was a very famous saying that went as “It is true that a women’s duty is centered in her home and motherhood but home should mean the whole country and not be confined to three or four rooms of a city or a state.” The following year witnessed the second international conference for working women in Copenhagen. More than 100 women from over 17 countries attended, including prominent socialist Luize Zietz and Clara Zetkins. They proposed that an International Women’s Day be held, to draw attention to women’s labour struggles. Next year, Europe held its first International Women’s Day on March 19,1911.
More than a million women and men attended rallies in Austria, Hungary, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.They fought to end gender discrimination and secure women’s rights to work, vote, be trained and hold public office. Socialist delegates, who had long favoured male labourer’s rights over women’s suffrage and equality began to finally champion women’s equality for the first time after these demonstrations. However, the World War 1 brought all possibility for social reform to a screeching halt.
International Women’s Day became a mode to protest the war. For many women, this spelt treason. It was in this fraught political climate that the most dramatic International Women’s Day march occurred. On 8th March 1917, 100,000 Russian women marched down the streets of the Russian capital of Petrograd. This historic protest sparked the Russian Revolution. Four days later, the emperor “Czar” abdicated the throne. The provisional government that was set up in its place became the first major government to grant woman the right to vote. Lenin then declared International Working Women’s Day as a Communist holiday in 1922. International Women’s Day was then celebrated mostly in socialist countries until the mid 1970s, dying down in fiercely anti-Communist USA. It made a comeback in 1975, which was declared by the UN as the International Women’s Year. 23rd February of Julain Calendar was in fact 8th March in Gregorian Calendar and thus was officially declared by the UN as International Women’s Day, bringing the day back to international significance.
In the domestic context the history of celebrating Women's Day goes back a long time period. The cooperative sector of our country has had identical association with the annual celebration. We, as cooperators take pride in celebrating this occasion as it provides opportunity to discuss common issues and reach to conclusions.
At present women have a say in this sector as we have been able to receive wider recognition in the board, management and shareholder responsibility. Latest report from the Department of Cooperatives show that women's participation in cooperative sector has climbed up which is remarkable. However, the prime concern is the need to working collectively to mainstream marginalized communities in increasing their access to finance, financial freedom and entrepreneurship.
Let this year's IWD inspire us to work in this direction to bring the desired and meaningful results. In this COVID hit year, women are prone to multiple risks like job loss, domestic violence, exploitation, sexual harassment and others. Taking all these factors into consideration, a strong will is required from the cooperative fraternity to combating these gender related issues towards ensuring women and gender friendly workplace environment. Let us all choose to challenge the gender stereotypes in voicing our common concerns.