Did you know that prune awareness week is nearly with us?

When each day is but an opportunity for selling, no cause gets a good outing

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SUNDAY was International Women's Day. Yesterday was Commonwealth Day. Tomorrow is National No Smoking Day and later this week you can celebrate National Food Awareness Week, Daffodil Day and National Prune Week.

Ralph Waldo Emerson in his journals said that a day was a miniature eternity - and if you look at the list of special days it certainly seems that way. The Roman Catholic Church and its holy days of obligation has nothing on the late 20th century diary.

There are now 313 "awareness days" listed in the calendar, where our attention is sought for anything from arthritis education to bedwetting. With of course Bosses' Day (15 October) and Secretaries' Day (23 April) thrown in for good measure.

Many of these days are nothing more than a chance for commercial exploitation (I refuse to believe that any tie-wearers need help and support for British Tie Week) or a handy peg to try to construct a news story. But the problem is that too many special days make any anniversary meaningless.

International Women's Day is a day in point. Do we really need a Women's Day to highlight women? We can hardly call ourselves a minority. Or is it not just a convenient way to ghettoise "women's issues", pushing them safely to 8 March for another year. Apart from taking advantage of free gym sessions, how many of us actually did something for IWD?

Of course part of the problem is that IWD has always had to compete with the far more cuddly Mothering Sunday which falls a few Sundays later. But when International Women's Day was first set up it was with a definite purpose in mind - to highlight the bad working conditions of working women. Its roots stretch as far back as 1857, coming out of a march by American female textile workers who were demonstrating for better conditions. The first international day took place in 1911.

It was really after the First World War that the day took off, with communists like Clara Zetkin, known as the "mother of IWD", persuading Lenin to make it a national holiday. After the 1930s women's day largely died out in the West - partly because of its association with communism - until the 1970s when the UN declared an International Women's Day.

The last big IWD demonstration in Britain was in 1971 when 5,000 women demonstrated, demanding equal pay, equal opportunity, free 24-hour childcare, free contraception and abortion on demand. But nowadays people have only the faintest idea of what IWD should be for.

The country where IWD is celebrated with the most fervency is still Russia where Women's Day is a big holiday, second only to New Year. On Sunday, President Yeltsin told the nation's women: "It is long established that building a house, putting up its walls and roof, is the job of a man. But they call on you, our women, to ensure the home is a comfortable one." Thanks, Boris. No mention then of the 14,000 women who get murdered in Russia every year.

No, it's time to call a halt to all these days. For good causes it's a lazy way of trying to raise awareness that has become meaningless through overuse. And it gives the others the chance to inflict Flea Awareness Week, Foot Health Week, International Left-Handers Day and National Take Your Dog to Work Day upon us. Myself, I'm voting for a National Non-Observance Day.

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