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Women’s Day : Not Another Valentine’s Day (A Timeline)

It might be a little known fact that the universal consciousness of women’s rights started just at the turn of the 20th century.

One forgotten phrase “We’d rather starve quick than starve slow” might just have been the push the world needed to begin to value and appreciate the woman.

If you’re a Ugandan like me, the early 1900s might remind you of one thing – the Buganda Agreement. If your history is any good, you will remember the likes of Sir Apollo Kaggwa and Sir Harry Johnstone. However, this story is not about two men agreeing the boundaries of a Kingdom. In fact, let’s leave these boundaries and travel all the way to Europe and North America where the second industrial revolution was in full swing.

This was a time marked with technological inventions and improvements all over the developing world. Railroads were being built, electricity was being invented, the world was on the cusp of a new age.

Even as technology widened the borders of capitalism in the world, workers were still a big force for development everywhere. In America, the common belief at the time was that women were unable to organise themselves and this meant they were exploited with longer hours and little pay, amongst other things.

The International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union were the first to stand up to these injustices and organised what was called “The Uprising of the 20,000”. This action would be later celebrated by the Socialist Party of America who celebrated the first Women’s Day on February 28th, 1909.

In Europe, it was Clara Zetkin who championed the need for a Universal Women’s Day Celebration. A German woman, she felt that women would emphasize their demands worldwide on this day. The idea was conceived in 1910 at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen which had over 100 women from 17 different countries.

While it was celebrated on every last Sunday of February till 1913 in the United States, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland first celebrated the day on 19th March 1911 where over a million women and men attended rallies advocating universal suffrage, the right for women to hold public office, to work, to be trained and not to be discriminated against.

The first time Women’s Day was celebrated on 8th March, was in 1914. Many women across Europe marched on the day to protest what was an impending world war and fight for the rights of women. Women stood up to what would be a world war that claimed about 17 million people.

1917 brought a glimmer of hope especially for Russian women when after four days of striking against the monarchy of Russia for food and peace, the Czar left the throne and the new government granted universal suffrage.

The United Nations would declare 8th March International Women’s Day for its members in 1975.

In Uganda, it was from the 1950’s women began making a mark on public thought and dialogue. Sarah Ntiro and Pumla Ellen Ngozwana Kisossonkole were the first black women admitted to the Legislative Council and both carried out considerable work in creating room for other women in the public circles.

Unfortunately in some circles, Women’s Day is another romantic day, where men cook and do everything their counterparts do all the time. Most people might perceive it to be crafted this way. However, the day has evolved from all over the world to highlight the disparity between the sexes and call for more attention on creating equitable opportunities.

Women’s Day shouldn’t be another Valentine’s Day, Women’s Day should be a day where we appreciate that the scales have not been the same for men and women for a long time and this is a continuing need in the world.

Photo: publici.ucimc.org

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