International Women’s Day (IWD), observed every year on March 8, celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
Being celebrated for over a century, the Day’s roots lie in the labour movement rather than the feminist movement. It was first organised in 1911 by the early 20th century Marxist from Germany, Clara Zetkin.
A prominent feminist, Zetkin is referred to as the “grandmother of German communism”.
Who was Clara Zetkin?
Born in 1857 at Wiederau in Germany, Zetkin was trained as a teacher, and was associated with the nascent Social Democratic Party (SPD in German, which is today one of the two major political parties in the country). She was involved in both the labour movement and the women’s movement.
In the 1880s, when anti-socialist laws were enforced by the German leader Otto von Bismarck, Zetkin went into self-imposed exile in Switzerland and France, where she wrote and distribute proscribed literature, and met leading socialists of the time. During this period, Zetkin played an important role in the formation of the Socialist International.
After returning to Germany, she was the editor of the Die Gleichheit (“Equality”), the SPD’s newspaper for women, from 1892 to 1917. In the SPD, Zetkin was closely associated with the far-left thinker and revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg.
In 1907, Zetkin became a co-founder of the International Socialist Women’s Congress. At the second Conference in 1910, she proposed the celebration of February 28 as Women’s Day in every country.
The conference, which consisted of 100 women from 17 countries — including unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs and female legislators — unanimously approved the suggestion, thus resulting in International Women’s Day being observed for the first time in 1911.
Zetkin was a personal friend of Vladimir Lenin, and in 1915 organised the first international women’s conference against World War I. In 1916, she co-founded the radical Spartacus League.
After World War I, Zetkin played a leading role in the German Communist Party, which she represented in the Reichstag (German parliament) from 1920 until 1933 — the year the party was banned by Adolf Hitler.
Zetkin died in Russia in 1933 shortly before Hitler came to power.
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