Celebrated worldwide, International Women’s Day marks all the progress women have made in the battle for equal rights and acknowledges how far they still have to go.
Women across the globe are honouring the day in their own ways.
In the US many are participating in the #ADayWithoutWomen strike against Donald Trump, which has forced two US school districts to close their schools for the day because so many female teachers were going to strike. Around 25,000 students are affected.
This strike is the latest in a long history of industrial action by women, but it was one march that happened exactly 100 years ago that has arguably had the greatest impact.
Although the first recorded Women's Day was organised by the Socialist Party of America in New York on 28 February 1909, it was a solidarity protest by a group of female textile workers in Russia in 1917 that changed the course of European history.
It is the anniversary of their demonstration which is now used to celebrate the day.
On 8 March (23 February in the old Russian calendar) 1917, tens of thousands of women took to the streets of St Petersburg – then called Petrograd – carrying banners demanding the Tsarist government “feed the children of the defenders of the motherland”.
Russia was in a state of near collapse as the First World War placed an intolerable strain on the already weak economy. On the Home Front famine loomed and women from working in the cities factories had had enough.
By the middle of the afternoon female textile workers from the Vyborg side of city had gone out on strike shouting "bread" and "down with the Tsar".
They were later joined by men working in the factories and soon around 100,000 workers were out in force in Nevsky Prospekt – the main street in the city – demanding an end of the Romanov dynasty which had ruled Russia since 1613.
Google marks International Women's Day with 13 amazing women
Google marks International Women's Day with 13 amazing women
1/13 Ida Wells
An African-American journalist and activist born in Mississippi in 1862, she wrote prolifically on the fight for women’s suffrage as well as the struggle for civil rights. She documented the practice of lynching black people in the southern states showing how it was often used as means of controlling or punishing black people who competed with whites rather than as a means of “justice” for crimes.
2/13 Lotifa El Nadi
Egypt’s first female pilot born in 1907 in Cairo. Although her father saw no need for her to pursue secondary education, expecting her to marry and have a family, she rebelled and worked as a secretary and telephone operator at a flying school in exchange for lessons as she had no other means to pay for the training. Her achievements made headlines around the world when she flew over the pyramids and competed in international flying races.
3/13 Frida Kahlo
A Mexican painter and activist born in Mexico City in 1907, her work has been celebrated internationally as emblematic of Mexican national and indigenous traditions and by feminists for its honest depiction of female experience.
4/13 Lina Bo Bardi
A Brazilian architect, born in Italy in 1914, she devoted her life to the promotion of the social and cultural potential of architecture and design. She is also celebrated for her furniture and jewellery designs.
5/13 Olga Skorokhodova
A Soviet scientist born into a poor Ukranian peasant family in 1911, she lost her vision and hearing at the age of five. Overcoming these difficulties in a remarkable way, she became a researcher in the field of communication and created a number of scientific works concerning the development of education of deaf-blind children. She was also a teacher, therapist and writer.
6/13 Miriam Makeba
A South African singer and civil rights activist born in Johannesburg in 1932, she was forced to work as a child following her father’s death. She became a teenaged mother after a bried and allegedly abusive marriage at 17, before she was discovered as a singer of jazz and African melodies. After becoming hugely successful in the US and winning a Grammy, she became involved in the civil rights struggle stateside as well as in the campaign against apartheid in her home country, writing political songs. Upon her death, South African President Nelson Mandela said that “her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us.”
7/13 Sally Ride
An American astronaut and physicist, she was born in Los Angeles in 1951 and joined NASA in 1978 after gaining her PhD. She became the first American woman and the third woman ever to go into space in 1983 at the age of 32. Prior to her first space flight, she attracted attention because of her gender and at press conferences, was asked questions such as, “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?” She later worked as an academic at the University of California, San Diego.
8/13 Halet Cambel
A Turkish archaeologist born in 1916, she became the first Muslim women to compete in the Olympics in the 1936 Berlin games as a fencer. She declined an invitation to meet Adolf Hitler on political grounds, and after the conclusion of the Second World War, she trained as an architect and later worked as an academic in Turkey and Germany.
9/13 Ada Lovelace
An English mathematician and writer born in 1815, she became the world’s first computer programmer. The daughter of poet George Byron, she is chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage's proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine, and was the first to recognise the machine had applications beyond pure calculation, creating the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine.
10/13 Rukmini Devi
An Indian dancer and choreographer credited with reviving Indian classical dance, she was born in 1904 and presented her form of dance on stage even though it was considered “low” and “vulgar” in the 1920s. She features in India Today’s list of “100 people who shaped India” having also worked to re-establish traditional Indian arts and crafts and as an animal rights activist.
11/13 Cecilia Grierson
An Argentine physician, reformer born in Buenes Aires in 1859, she became the first woman in Argentina to receive a medical degree having previously worked as a teacher. Women were barred from entering medical school at the time, so she first volunteered as an unpaid lab assistant before she was allowed to train as a doctor. She was acclaimed for her work during a cholera epidemic before going on to found the first nursing school in Argentina. The harassment she experienced at mediacl school helped make her a militant advocate for women’s rights in Argentina.
12/13 Lee Tai-young
Korea’s first female lawyer and judge born in 1914 in what is now North Korea, she was also an activist who founded the country’s first legal aid centre and fought for women’s rights throughout her career. Her often mentioned refrain was, “No society can or will prosper without the cooperation of women.” She worked as a teacher, married and had four children before she was able to begin her legal career after the Second World War, becoming the first woman to enter Seoul National University. She also fought for civil rights in the country and was arrested in 1977 for her beliefs, receiving a three-year suspended sentence and a ten year disbarment.
13/13 Suzanne Lenglen
A French tennis champion born in 1899, she popularised the sport winning 31 championships and dominating the women’s sport for over a decade. She was the first female tennis celebrity and one of the first international women sports stars, overcoming a childhood plagued with ill health including chronic asthma – which continued to plague her in her adult life. At 15, she became the youngest ever winner of a major championship and lost only seven matches during her entire career. She received widespread criticism for her decision to turn professional, but defended her right to make a decent living in the days when the grand slam tournaments paid a relative pittance to the winners.
Russian troops attempted to repel the crowds but most were inexperienced, ill-equipped reservists because the experienced soldiers were away on the front lines.
As a result they could do little more than attempt to frighten the protesters. Many, angry at the poor state of the army, sided with them.
This weakness emboldened the protesters who came back in force over the coming days and revolutionaries – who had been agitating for change for decades – gave speeches calling for the end to Tsardom in the city’s main squares while the authorities looked on powerlessly.
Tsar Nicholas II’s ministers begged him to return the capital and resign but the autocrat, who was 500 miles away on the front line, refused and instructed them to crack down on the protesters.
Peaceful protests soon turned to riots and spread to other parts of the country. One by one regiments of the Tsar’s army began to mutiny as protesters smashed police stations, the headquarters of the secret police, the district court and seized the weapons arsenal.
By 15 March Nicholas was finally persuaded to sign the order formally abdicating on behalf of himself and his young son Alexei.
His brother, Grand Duke Mikhail was set to take over, but after realising he would have no support as ruler, the next day he declined to accept the crown.
Instead he handed power over to the Provisional Government – which immediately granted women the right to vote on the same terms as men.
But after taking the reigns of power, they quickly became equally unpopular as it remained committed to staying in the war despite Russia being near in a state of near economic collapse and struggled to solve the food shortages.
Just eight months later on 7 November, the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin staged a coup d'etat, storming the Winter Palace and seizing control of the government.
Following the murder of Nicholas and his family in 1918 and a bitter civil war between 1917 and 1922, the Bolsheviks were able to establish the world’s first Communist state.
It lasted until 1991, triggering decades of fear and tension with other world powers.
The Communists made the day a national holiday in Russia in 1917 but it remained a working day until 1965, when the Soviet government decreed it a holiday.
Historians have debated whether the first Russian revolution of 1917 was as spontaneous as it seemed or whether it was orchestrated by socialist agitators.
But this was a day when demonstrations by a few thousand angry women began the downfall of the most powerful empires on Earth.
- More about:
- International Women's Day
- Russian Revolution
- February revolution
- Women's Rights
- Tsar Nicholas II