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Women”s Day: The Commemoration of Struggles of Women, not ‘Womanhood’

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By P. V. Swati:

The International Women’s Day today is one in the calendar when are women are appreciated for the role they play in the essentially patriarchal world. They are celebrated for their ‘womanly’ attributes of patience, elegance, grace, poise, beauty and silence. But, Women’s Day seen from an historical point was nothing about these virtues. It symbolized women’s struggle for equality, liberty, representation and recognition. The day commemorated the long-drawn feminist struggle for emancipation and empowerment of women. The modern day conception of International Women’s Day which has been essentialised to celebrating the socially constructed ‘feminine’ is nothing but a disgrace to its true meaning and significance of the day.

To understand the true essence and purpose behind International Women’s Day, it is important to delve a little bit into the history to trace its origin. The first national Women’s Day was observed on 28 February 1909 in the United States following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. Inspired in part by the American socialists, German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed the establishment of an annual ‘International Woman’s Day’ and was seconded by Clara Zetkin The following year, on 18 March, 1911, International Women’s Day was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire alone, there were 300 demonstrations. In Vienna, women paraded on the Ringstrasse and carried banners honouring the martyrs of the Paris Commune. Women demanded that women be given the right to vote and to hold public office. They also protested against employment sex discrimination.

In 1913 Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February, by Julian calendar then used in Russia. In 1917 demonstrations marking International Women’s Day in St.Petersburg on the last Sunday in February, which fell on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar initiated the mighty February Revolution, the first phase of Russian Revolution. . 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 their sisters.

Following the October Revolution which was the second phase of the uprising, Lenin was persuaded to make it an official holiday in the Soviet Union, and thus the turn of events marked the official Women’s Day. But, it was a working day until 1965. On May 8, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women’s Day was declared a non working day in the USSR.

From its official adoption in Russia following the Soviet Revolution in 1917 the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist and socialist countries. It was celebrated by the communists in China from 1922, and by Spanish communists from 1936. In the West, International Women’s Day was first observed as a popular event after 1977 when the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.

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 for coordinated efforts to demand women’s rights and participation in the political and economic process. 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 women’s rights.

But, over the year, the approach of March 8 – Women’s Day in Russia — puts the focus on gifting women with with flowers, candy and cosmetics! The land which witnessed the uprising, struggle and progress of women, has dumped down the significance of Women’s Day to reinforcing the socially constructed ‘feminine’ stereotypes.

This time of the year is a seasonal boom for the cosmetics industry in Russia. First is Valentine’s Day in February, which more and more people in the country celebrate. And now, as March 8thapproaches, men all across Russia are frantically buying gifts for the women in their lives.

According to a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble, fine fragrances are the biggest sellers, while all other beauty product sales increase also during this time of the year. The company does a number of special promotions over this holiday period, as does Kalian, which is the biggest Russian cosmetics company. In 2008, on Women’s Day the volume of perfume and cosmetic sales in Russia was worth $9.6 billion dollars.

A greater number of men than usual are out shopping for Women’s Day gifts for their Russian wives, daughters, mothers and sisters. There also are more women buying gifts to pamper themselves as the day approaches. On these lines, the Russian cosmetics market is worth more than $9 billion a year thanks in part to the sales brought about by the Women’s Day buying season.

But, India has not lagged behind either. Before we get into any further details, have a look at the following advertisement which has been all over internet in the past two weeks.

-Oriflame organizes Beauty Counter for Women’s Day celebrations in MNCs across the country. Let’s strike the balance between beauty and brains this year.
-In line with International Women’s Day, Baci Lingerie celebrates the vibrant sparks of women with a special discount of 20% on all collections at the store.
-This Women’s Day pamper yourself and gift yourself a special spa package. Visit Aura at The Park Hotel in Delhi. The spa offers luxurious packages like Aloe Spice scrub, Vanilla Cream Massage and Grapevine Facial, starting from Rs. 1,800.
-Women’s Day Offer: Flat 50% off at Mega Mart on all kitchen products.
-Lifestyle celebrates the spirit of womanhood. Shop women’s apparel worth Rs 3000 during 5th to 11th March 2011 and get a gift voucher worth Rs 500 free.
-As part of International Women’s Day, make-up artist Zaynab Mirza launches her most popular products, the Yellow Fizz eye shadow dust. This versatile eye shadow is perfect for day-to-night glamour. Use a quick sweep for subtle shimmer or apply several layers for an intense and dramatic look. Just what 21st century woman wants.

According to the CEO of, Mr. Nikhil Poddar, “Our earnest desire is to deliver the best online gift range for women’s day to our customers in affordable range. Cosmetic hamper and perfumes are amongst the best gift ideas for women and we have more than 500 varieties to choose from those sections. Also we count the last minute orders too as we believe the pricelessness of a gift from your loved ones on women’s day.”

Undoubtedly, the meaning and importance of International Women’s Day has been reduced to a day meant for hyping all the so-called womanly attributes constructed by the society itself. The celebration of women’s struggle for equality and revolution has now been pinned down for the annual discounts on lingerie, make up products and kitchen wares.

In order celebrate the International Women’s Day in a true sense, we need to understand its history, meaning and its relevance in women’s movement in different part of the world. It is a day to enforce and reinforce the ‘strength of women’ over the socially constructed notion of ‘womanhood’. It is a day to assert and reassert the feminist progress over the culturally formulated ‘femininity’. So, this 8th March let us reclaim and celebrate the true Women’s Day.

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        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

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        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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