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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 181
March 13 , 2005

This week's issue:
Human Rights Analysis
Star Law Analysis
Law Alter Views
Star Law History
Human Rights Advocacy
Rights Column
Human Rights Monitor
Fact File
Law Event

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Women's Day Special

Star law history

Tracing the roots of March 8

Women's rights
Reclaiming the voices of women

*1857 - one of the first organized actions by working women anywhere in the world. Hundreds of women garment and textile workers went on strike in New York City, in protest of low wages, long working hours and inhumane working conditions. Police violently attacked the workers, many were injured, many were arrested.
*1908 - "Bread and Roses" was chanted as a campaign slogan by some 30,000 women workers who took to the streets of New York. Bread symbolizing economic security and roses a better quality of life. The women workers were calling for shorter work hours, better pay, voting rights and an end to child labour. Within a few years of their "Bread and Roses" campaign, the first women's labour union in America was organized.
* 1911 - working women from Germany, Austria, Denmark and other European countries held strikes and marches. Russian revolutionary and feminist Aleksandra Kollantai, who helped organized the event, described it as "one seething trembling sea of women." Aleksandra Kollantai and Klara Zetkin, a German socialist, proposed that there should be international solidarity among exploited women workers. Thus, these women have been known to be the founders of International Women's Day (IWD).
* 1914 - women opposing war staged mass protests all over Europe. World War I was waged not without dissent from women. They were organizing and demonstrating for peace, across cultural divides. This set-off series of powerful marches and demonstrations all throughout, with women from both sides of the war participating in solidarity.
* 1917 - The "Bread and Peace" strike led by the Russian women in St. Petersburg. The IWD strike, which was participated in by Klara Zetkin and Aleksandra Kollantai, merged with riots that had spread throughout the city between March 8-12. This later became known as "The February Revolution" which forced the authoritarian rule of Czar Nicholas II to end. (Russia switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1918, which moved the dates of the February revolution [Feb. 24-28, old style] to March.)March 8 - "The heroic woman worker" is commemorated and celebrated on this day, as Aleksandra Kollantai, as a minister in the first Soviet government, persuaded Lenin to make March 8 as an official communist holiday.

The history of March 8 as the International Women's Day is rooted on the movement for women's rights and peace. IWD was commemorated in the United States during the 1910s and 1920s, but then dwindled. It was revived during the women's movement in the 1960s, but without its socialist associations. In 1975, the United Nations began sponsoring International Women's Day.

The women's movements in the Asia Pacific region have long joined in the celebration of the IWD. While equal rights, quality of life and peace have been consistently upheld as the demands of women, there were also other issues highlighted which are urgent and particular to the lives and context of women in the region. The use of rape by the state as a weapon of war has ravaged the lives of hundreds of women living in armed conflict situations. The aggressive war on terrorism has heightened violence against communities and organisations in the list of suspected terrorists, causing insecurity and death among women human rights defenders. The take-over of multinational corporations over land, farms, vegetable gardens, kitchen, has pushed rural women out of their source of power and control over their livelihoods and survival. The intensifying fundamentalisms have seen the use of women and their bodies as tools of propaganda for different religion and ethnicity, entrenching masculine power over women and their communities.

However, over the years, the tradition of the IWD has slowly been co-opted by the governments. March 8 as the International Women's Day is increasingly becoming an occasion for UN-sponsored international conferences, national government-sponsored festivities and grand receptions. While these help popularise the significance of March 8, that is to highlight the urgent issues of women, and a space to create international solidarity among women, these government grand events overshadow the genuine spirit of political activism of IWD.

March 8, as the International Women's Day, has the tradition of protest and activism. Let us keep it alive. Let us not allow this day to be a government-sponsored celebration led by women who enjoy privileges of power and wealth, while majority of women continue to live a life of poverty, exploitation and oppression. Let them not speak for us. Let them not obscure our fight for change.

On March 8, and the days thereafter on this women's month, let us take to the streets, as our sisters did generations ago. Let our own voices be heard today!

The women's month is also a month of celebration. Let us celebrate international solidarity among women workers, migrants, indigenous, hill tribes, rural poor, Dalits, peasants, fisher and agricultural workers, sex workers, trafficked girls and other marginalized women. Let us celebrate our strength, and our spirit, as we persist with our mission of giving birth to a just, humane, nurturing society for both women and men.

Source: Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).

Photo: APWLD


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