As many people know, the 8th of March was International Women’s Day. A day that’s set apart to commemorate the movement for women’s rights world over.
In Zambia, Women’s Day fell on a Thursday, two weeks ago, with Youth day the following Monday. Because of this, the President declared it a 5 day long weekend. (Economically a terrible move, but that’s a topic for another day and another blogger).
I spent part of my Women’s Day doing what any overzealous 21 year old feminist would do: reading up on the history of Women’s Day and the movements that lead to its commemoration.
While I joined in on the long weekend excitement, I couldn’t help but notice how many people paid more attention to the fact that it was a long weekend and less attention to Women’s Day. Completely oblivious to what it really means and just how important it is. But let’s be honest, few people know and fully grasp the true essence of the day. Most just think it’s a day to celebrate women for the heck of it while an even greater number of people just see it as an opportunity for social media posts, and dedications for likes and hype. There’s really much more to the day than leisure and an Instagram/Facebook post accompanied by a cheesy message and #IWD or #HappyWomensDay.
Before I get to my point, let me take the opportunity to delve into international Women’s Day and what it means to Women world over, especially in Africa. Just so we’re on the same page. Shall we?
“International Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.”
The very first Women’s Day was observed on 28th February, 1909. The socialist party in the USA designated this day in honor of the 1908 garment workers strike in New York where a group of brave women protested against unsuitable working conditions.
The very next year there was a meeting in Copenhagen to establish Women’s Day international in character to honor the movement for women’s rights. The notion was unanimously approved, but they didn’t have an actual date as to when they wanted to celebrate it.
In 1911, the date was set to March 19th, but by 1914 women across Europe observed it on 8th March instead.
It was however only much further down the line that the UN officially began celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8th . As a result, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action came along in 1995.
It was a historic road map signed by 189 countries aimed towards focusing on 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. By 2014 there was the 58th session of the commission on the status of women (CSW58), where states gathered to address critical issues related to gender, equality and women’s rights.
All of the sudden the efforts of women movements such as the Suffragettes, the Pankhursts, and so many more came to fruition and could be seen.
Everything they fought for was becoming worth it. Their voices were being heard and their struggles recognized.
Struggles in relation to the day were not limited to the first world. The day also commemorates activists closer to home. African feminists. As Africans it’s important that we not only commemorate the day at large, but that we also commemorate African women revolutionaries. Women like…
- Lady Abayomi (Nigeria)
Founder of the Women’s Party in Lagos (Nigeria), who advocated for the rights of Nigerian women. She later went onto lobby for more educational and economic opportunities for women
- Mabel Dove Danquah and Hannah Benka-Coker (Sierra Leone)
Two brave women who lead 10,000 women in a protest against exorbitant food prices in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Dove would later become the very first woman in West Africa to be elected to the legislature in 1954. The two set in motion the strong will of women in the country to fight for their rights and so the Sierra Leone Women’s Movement was founded in 1954.
- Dr Noerine Kaleeba (Uganda)
Founder of the AIDS Support Organization Uganda (TASO Uganda). An organization aimed towards the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uganda.
- Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu (South Africa)
Well renowned anti-apartheid activist commonly known as “Mother Of The Nation” in South African due to her tireless political activism in the fight against oppressive rule.
- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia)
The first female head of state ever to be democratically elected in Africa through her relentless work promoting peace, reconciliation, and social and economic development.
- Wangari Maathai (Kenya)
Internationally renowned Kenyan environmental political activist and Nobel laureate who dedicated her life’s work to environmental conservation and women’s rights.
These are just a few of so many African women who spearheaded women’s social movements in Africa. There’s no denying that these women were revolutionaries, making it even more sad to think that not only are they not being commemorated on days like International Women’s Day, but that there are still a large number of people that remain oblivious to these women’s tremendous work. So many African little girls yet to gain knowledge about potential role models that could shape them to even greater women in the future.
The only way we can learn, is to look into our past. The only way we can actively continue the fight for women’s rights, is to not only focus on our current struggle; but to look back on struggles women before us faced, educate ourselves on the tremendous strides they made and therefore aspire to achieve greatness. With this enlightenment, we can work even harder to ensure that all people begin to have the radical belief that women are human beings.
So as the next International Women’s Day comes along on 8th March, 2019; let’s do ourselves a favor and focus a little less on those social media posts, and a little more on educating ourselves about the commendable women who fought so hard to secure the rights we have now. While we’re a long way from where we should be- thanks to these women, we can be glad we’re not where we used to be.