On March 8, 1917, in the capital of the Russian Empire, Petrograd, women textile workers began a city-wide demonstration. This marked the beginning of the Russian Revolution. Women in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) went on strike that day for "Bread and Peace" - demanding the end of World War I, an end to Russian food shortages and czarism.
Leon Trotsky wrote, "We did not imagine that this 'Women's Day' would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in the morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support for the strike… which led to mass strike... all went out into the streets."
Seven days later, the Emperor of Russia Nicholas II abdicated the throne and the provisional government granted women the right to vote.
So the demonstration by Russian women on March 8, 1917, led to suffrage or the right to vote in political elections. The suffrage movement spread through the socialist countries, and in 1918, the UK Parliament passed an act granting the vote to women over the age of 30 who were householders and graduates of British universities. In USA, the right to vote to women was granted in 1920.
Following the October Revolution in 1917, the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai and Vladimir Lenin made it an official holiday in the Soviet Union. 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 "in commemoration of the outstanding merits of Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defence of their Fatherland during the Great Patriotic War, in their heroism and selflessness at the front and in the rear, and also marking the great contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples, and the struggle for peace. But still, women's day must be celebrated as are other holidays."
Women's demonstration for bread and peace on March 8, 1917, in Russia.
From its official adoption in Soviet Russia following the Revolution in 1917, the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist countries and by the communist/socialist movement worldwide. It was celebrated by the communists in China from 1922. After the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, the State Council proclaimed that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.
The United Nations began celebrating International Women's Day in the International Women's Year, 1975. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women's rights and world peace.
The following is a chronology on history Women's Day from UN.org:
The first National Woman's Day was observed in the United States on February 28. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honour of the 1908 garment workers' strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions.
The Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, established a Women's Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women's rights and to build support for achieving universal suffrage for women.
The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance.
As a result of the Copenhagen initiative, International Women's Day was marked for the first time (March 19) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded women's rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.
International Women's Day also became a mechanism for protesting World War I. As part of the peace movement, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February. Elsewhere in Europe, on or around March 8 of the following year, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with other activists.
Against the backdrop of the war, women in Russia again chose to protest and strike for "Bread and Peace" on the last Sunday in February (which fell on March 8 on the Gregorian calendar). Four days later, the Czar abdicated and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.
During International Women's Year, the United Nations began celebrating International Women's Day on March 8.
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic roadmap signed by 189 governments, focused on 12 critical areas of concern, and envisioned a world where each woman and girl can exercise her choices, such as participating in politics, getting an education, having an income, and living in societies free from violence and discrimination.
The 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58) - the annual gathering of States to address critical issues related to gender equality and women's rights - focused on "Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls". UN entities and accredited NGOs from around the world took stock of progress and remaining challenges towards meeting the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs have played an important role in galvanizing attention on and resources for gender equality and women's empowerment.
March 8 is loaded with meaning. It gave shape to the struggles of the day and established women as a political force that can shape history.
March 8 needs to be rescued from our neoliberal capitalist culture that aims to make a business out of Women's Day and spreads a media narrative that creates a false perception about the meaning and significance of the day.
International Women's Day is about women's rights, women's movements and world peace. It is not about "celebration of womenhood", "spa discounts", "consumerism" and "neoliberal success".
It is a day to celebrate the revolutionaries, the dissenters and the social movements which have secured many of the rights which we now take for granted.
It is a day to encourage and strengthen the newer 21st century struggles where women are still vying for equality, choice, freedom, peace and justice.
After 101 years since March 8, 1917, the struggles are far from being over, as of yet.