Today in Obscure Holidays: International Women’s Day

Did you know that March 8 is International Women’s Day? Don’t worry, I didn’t either.

According to the International Women’s Day (IWD) website (yeah, days have websites now), “IWD is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.” Its origins are a bit murky (see this article describing attempts to tie it to an apocryphal March 8, 1857 protest by female garment workers), but in many countries it is a longstanding national holiday. -And in fact, demonstrations in St. Petersburg on International Women’s Day 1917 sparked the February revolution. (Back then, February was in March.)

This year’s UN theme for International Women’s Day is: “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls.” I think we can all get behind that. (Despite what some of our commenters think of our views about rape, Amanda and I are both adamantly anti-sexual violence. Bold stance, I know, but we’re nothing if not mavericks.)

MSF seized the opportunity for a tie-in with their new report on sexual violence “Shattered Lives.” The report, forwarded by one of our extremely awesome readers, highlights the importance of immediate medical care for victims of sexual violence, and generally does a bang-up job of emphasizing that rape is rape whether it happens in wartime or peacetime, whether the perpetrator is a rebel combatant or a high school teacher, and whether the victim is male or female.

So, happy International Women’s Day 2009 to you all, and let’s hope we’ll be seeing more of this sort of intelligent advocacy on the issue of sexual violence. (Maybe don’t hold your breath, though…)

Kate Cronin-Furman


  1. International Women’s Day is huge in the former USSR. It’s like Mothers’ Day, Valentine’s Day, Daylight Savings and Arbor Day rolled into one.

  2. It’s big in the Congo, as well, especially for the women who are victims of violence. Watching groups of women march through Goma in an International Women’s Day parade, eye to eye with the soldiers who terrorize them, is one of the more moving things I’ve ever seen. It’s all that Kari described plus a big “screw you” to the rapists that Congolese women value and need.

  3. It was kinda big in Iran too in the 1980s (when I was last there). I believe it got tied to the birthday holiday of Fatema the daughter of Muhammad rather than anything politically liberating for Iranian women. But still…

  4. When I was in Bosnia, I remember one day seeing children running wild all over Sarajevo with balloons and candy, and singing and dancing in huge circles. The revelry went on for hours and hours. The sound of children singing was so freakin’ loud that I could hear the lyrics clearly from a dozen floors up. It was whimsical and cute and kind of odd all at once.

    Needless to say, it was Children’s Day.

  5. I just wanted to second texasinafrica’s comment about IWD being big in Congo. I marched with I don’t know how many 1000s of women down the streets of Bukavu for hours last Saturday, and it was great (except for the bad sunburn!). I don’t know how much effect the Day has on the mindsets of people here though. So many of my male colleagues asked whether I and the other women at our organization were going to throw a party for the men since it was Women’s Day…there is the attitude that the men do everything for the women, so on Women’s Day, the women should do something for them. These comments caused some heated discussions between the men and our western women about who actually does everything for whom. Anyway, Women’s Day is quite a big thing here in Bukavu, and if you’re interested, there are some pics up on my blog…

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