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International Women's Day

March 8th is International Women's Day, celebrated by the United Nations and many countries, including Israel. Civilization has made a long way since the struggle for equal rights for women, aimed at balancing the legal status of women to that of men. International Women's Day commemorates the struggle for equal rights for women and the struggle of women for justice, peace and progress. This day is dedicated to examining the integration of women in various fields of economics, politics and society, and to mark their achievements in these fields.

History of the Struggle for Equality
The process of modernization in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries, alongside the European Enlightenment movement, led the demand for women's equality and supported their struggle. John Stewart Mill's "The Subjection of Women" (1869) is considered a landmark in the struggle for women's equality in England during the 19th century. Mill's work debated the subjection of women within their families, arguing that the principles of justice should first be implemented in the family and only then in the general society. He also claimed in his book that a society based on justice is not capable of differentiating women.

As the industrial revolution progressed, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many workers were drawn to work in industrial plants, among them women and children. This phenomenon was instrumental in forming the status of women as a vital and influential labor force, and in beginning to acquire their rights. The workers, among them women, were required to work long hours in difficult, unhealthy conditions, bringing about the gradual formation of professional unions, inspired by different aspects of socialism.

On March 8th 1857, hundreds of textile workers in New York opened a strike because of their low pay, long hours, and inhumane conditions. It was one of the first times in history that women workers organized in protest. Two years later, these protesting women formed the first workers' union, holding traditional demonstrations on a yearly basis.

On March 8th 1908, the Socialist Women's Organization in the United Stated held a mass demonstration in New York City. It was organized by the suffragists a women's movement established in the late 19th century that struggled for voting rights for women and the promotion of bills for the protection of women. Fifteen thousand women marched through the streets of New York in demand for decreasing women's working hours, increasing their pay and providing them with rights to vote. The suffragists' struggle in the United States ended with the 19th amendment to the constitution of the United States, ratified in 1920, in which women were guaranteed rights to vote.

International Women's Day was first marked in the United States on February 28th 1909.

In August 1910, during a meeting of the International Socialist Women held in Copenhagen, a suggestion was accepted for declaring an international day in honor of women's rights and for marking the suffrage movements' struggles around the world. The suggestion was accepted in a convention attended by more than 100 women representing 17 countries. The International Women's Day was first marked in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19th 1911. Over a million men and women took part in the gatherings held that day. In addition to their demand to provide women with voting rights and the right to be admitted for any public post, the participants also demanded that women be given the right for integration in employment and the right for professional training, as well as putting a halt to all discrimination in labor between men and women. Less than a week later, on March 25th, more than 140 women workers perished in a fire in their factory in New York. The disaster was caused due to insufficient security measures, and it too became a landmark in the struggle of women for their working conditions and rights.

On the last Sunday of February 1913, a short time before the breakout of the First World War, women in Russia marked the International Women's Day in a demonstration for peace. That year, on March 8th and around it, women convened in several European countries in protest against the atmosphere of war and in expression of solidarity with women worldwide.

On the last Sunday of February 1917, after it was known that 2 million Russian soldiers were killed in the war, women in Russia held a strike and protested for "livelihood and peace." Four days later, the Russian Tzar was forced to step down, allowing the temporary government to grant on March 8th, according to the Gregorian calendar voting rights for women. These events finalized the date set for International Women's Day.

The First World War had brought far-reaching social and political changes, leading towards advancement in the status of women across Europe. The war efforts and the service of men in the military front brought many women into the labor force. Women continued to hold significant positions in the economy following the war, enabling them to demand and receive rights they did not have prior to that time, including the passive and active participation in voting. This right was granted between the two world wars in many developed countries. The mass amount of losses caused by the First World War brought many women to devote their time for public action in promotion of world peace, connecting it to their struggle for equality.

After the 1920's the interest in the International Women's Day had declined. The Second World War, beginning only twenty years after the first war ended, and the mass destruction caused by both wars, brought much distress and called for a change in priorities. The interest in the social, political and economic status of women was repressed. The "Happy Housewife Myth," which reached its climax in the United States during the 1950's, had promoted that women administer to the household and vacated working positions for men returning from the war front.

In the 1960's, upon the awakening of the Feminist Movement, International Women's Day was marked again in many countries. Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" (1963), in which the author examined women's issues in modern society, became a best-seller and was translated into many languages. In her book, Friedan claimed that women are required to enslave their potentials, and even their identity, in order to fulfill their traditional "destination" of marriage and raising of children. These in turn prevent women from filling positions that would endow them with satisfaction. In 1977, the United Nations' General Assembly decided to dedicate a day marking women's rights and world peace, and in 1979 it adopted the treaty for exterminating all forms of discrimination against women. The latter was validated in 1981, after it was signed by 20 countries. Israel was one of the first states to sign the treaty, which was meant to guarantee the right of women to enjoy from economic, social, political and civilian equality, as it is anchored in international treaties for human rights.

Today, only a few states Saudi Arabia and developing countries in Africa prevent women from complete equality regarding the right to vote or to be elected. The rates of women elected to parliaments remain low worldwide, in comparison to their ratio in population, and it is even lower in the dominating bodies of political parties and in governments. The rate of women in the labor force reaches up to 30%-40% in progressive countries, though their average pay is distinctively lower than that of their male counterparts. The ratio of women in executive positions is also much lower than their ratio in population.

Each year in March, the Women's Committee of the United Nations convenes and in it are delegates of all member states. The Israeli delegation is made up jointly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Authority for the Advancement of Women, varying its composition in relation to the topics expected to be debated. The members of the Israeli delegation also hold conferences with Jewish women and representatives of Jewish women's organizations from the Diaspora. This connection is meant to encourage cooperation and initiate exclusive projects with women of the Diaspora, as well as strengthening the influence of the Jewish lobby over the government.

International Women's Day is marked in Israel by public demonstrations, events and panels concerning the state of women in areas such as equality in pay, equality in work opportunities, the struggle against family violence, etc.


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