In a world where women are still considered inferior to men, where they are paid way less, where they experience violence everywhere they go, where girls are ripped of their childhood, it seems quite ironic that people think it’s fine to congratulate us. This isn’t more than a sexist stereotype that has been so deeply engraved into our mindset that we can get to perceive them as normal and innocent when in reality they are not.
For some people, it may seem a little excessive to suggest that we should stop congratulating women on March 8th, but if we consider all the following context and the fact that this day is more of a female shout for society to end with sexist behaviors and abuses, then this idea may not sound as far-fetched.
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What do we commemorate March 8th?
Since 1975, the United Nations, along with many countries around the world, have marked this particular date as the International Women’s Day; a time in which people commemorate all the important steps that female society has taken throughout history to get equal rights and more participation within the public sphere.
It is considered a day to recognize the constant fight for equality, justice, peace, and social development. A day to keep demanding governments and the society for more respect and freedom to choose over different matters like their political regime, education, bodies, and lives.
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Why March 8th?
This day has its origins in all the different movements that women have organized to create a change within society. From the United States to Russia, different manifestations on this matter have molded how we commemorate Women’s Day nowadays, encouraging people to keep fighting forward towards the ultimate change we want to see in society.
It was from the Russian Manifestation for women’s right to vote in 1917, that we shall attribute our actual Women’s Day. This event happened on March 19th when more than 40,000 women from the Russian League for Women’s Equality gathered in St. Petersburg to demand the government’s recognition of female political participation.
By this year, Russia had not yet implemented the Gregorian calendar for time measurement (like the rest of Europe had already done) so days were still counted based on the Julian calendar. Right after this whole revolution happened, the government adopted the “new” time measurement system and then the event itself happened to be commemorated every March 8th.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire
Besides Russia’s fight for suffrage, one of the most highlighted social movements that marked Women’s Day history is the “New York Shirtwaist strike” in 1909. Female workers from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory arranged a work stoppage to demand better working conditions and improved wages.
During this time, workers were supposedly paid according to their production skills. In the case of female learners, they received $3-4 a day, which was a very small fraction of the “semi-skilled operator” wages that circulated $7-12 and that were usually received by men. Moreover, they worked at least 65 hours per week and were fined when they were late on their shifts or for damaging any garment they were working on. So, at the end of the month, workers sometimes ended up receiving way less money than expected, and factory owners got to have a cheap workforce, especially when it came to women.
At the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, almost all the workers were Jewish women that had migrated to the country; they were young women ranging from 14 to 23 years old. These women were severely exploited and were kept under deplorable working conditions for long shifts without decent breaks or fair wages. So, in September 1909, they all went on strike, and thousands of workers (both men and women, although mostly women) agreed to walk outside the factory to protest against their employment situation and demand a 20% pay raise, additional payment for extra hours, and improved safety labor conditions.
They were on strike for weeks, and most workers from the whole industry joined them in their cause. In the end, most factories settled for their demands, and the labor treatment for women did improve a little bit. But as for the Shirtwaist Factory, the owners were some of the few manufacturers who remained resistant towards these new policies and even were later known to have paid off the authorities to ignore the fact that they were breaking the newly implemented laws.
And so, the working conditions under which the workers continued to sustain themselves and their families kept being deplorable at the Triangle Factory. It was a complete sweatshop in which people were literally locked inside for long hours until their shift was over, and someone was authorized to open the place’s doors so that they could leave without stealing anything. Once they were “freed” from their shift, workers had to take the only elevator that worked properly (out of three that existed), and that made the exit process really slow, crowded, and more complex than it should have been.
Thanks to the fact that the owners never focused on implementing any type of safety measures for their workers, the factory became a high-risk place where people could harm themselves at any moment, and no one actually cared about taking action towards it until, in 1911, the place caught fire and the consequences of that were entirely disastrous.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire became the biggest New York tragedy of history until the terrorist act of the Twin Towers. No one was prepared for this “accident” that took the lives of 146 workers who did not have time to escape from the place. The team of firefighters who tried to control the situation also didn’t have the adequate resources to do so; their ladders were too small to reach the third floor of the building, and their nets were so rusty that they broke by the moment they tried to use them, so it was inevitable that the flames would spread all across the factory and destroy everything in its path.
From that moment, the government and manufacturers didn’t have any more option than to pay compensation fees to the victim’s families and assure that all workplaces had suitable, decent conditions for people to work in. This incident then became a forerunner for all the different organization groups that came after on behalf of women’s labor rights, including salary and conditions.
Why not congratulate women on Women’s Day?
Women’s Day is cemented over a lot of fights and sacrifices that remain standing to this day. The whole movement and cause behind it, although it has achieved great success in some aspects, has still a long way to go regarding gender violence, femicides, and respect for women’s rights all over the world.
Because of these loose ends that remain unsolved towards everything wrong in the overall patriarchal system that we live in, it is nonsensical and even offensive for women to be congratulated for being part of the one half of the population that up to this day gets assaulted, insulted, and disrespected while walking through the streets, that keeps demanding the right to decide over their own body, and is continuously trying to eradicate sexist behaviors towards them daily.
International Women’s Day is not meant to be celebrated but to raise awareness and take action towards a more equal and secure society where women can go on and on about their life with the freedom of choice we all deserve as humans. As of right now, we shall hopefully leave the celebration for the future generations and focus more on the change we need to see today.