Today is International Women’s Day. I had originally planned to write about it for today’s entry on A Stamp A Day. However, I found that I don’t have a single stamp in my collection marking this annual special day. I do have several that commemorated International Women’s Year in 1975 (including the United States and Canada, neither of which have issued a stamp for International Women’s Day). My “rule” on ASAD is that each featured stamp MUST be in my collection so my usual modus operandi when such a thing occurs is to mark it on the calendar for “next year” and then order an appropriate stamp from a dealer on eBay. In doing a search on that site this morning, I discovered a huge variety of stamps and took an interest in seeing how different countries honored women each year. Rather than choose one or two and then wait a year, I have chosen to share many of the stamps I found here on Philatelic Pursuits today where I haven’t placed any “must be in my collection” constraints (or, is that restraints?).
International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8 every year. It is a focal point in the movement for women’s rights. After the Socialist Party of America organized a Women’s Day on February 28, 1909, in New York, the 1910 International Socialist Woman’s Conference suggested a Women’s Day be held annually. After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. The day was then predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations.
Today, International Women’s Day is a public holiday in some countries and largely ignored elsewhere. In some places, it is a day of protest; in others, it is a day that celebrates womanhood.
The earliest Women’s Day observance, called “National Woman’s Day,” was held on February 28, 1909 in New York, organized by the Socialist Party of America at the suggestion of Theresa Malkiel. Though there have been claims that the day was commemorating a protest by women garment workers in New York on March 8, 1857, researchers have described this as a myth.
In August 1910, an International Socialist Women’s Conference was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen, Denmark. Inspired in part by the American socialists, German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed the establishment of an annual Women’s Day and was seconded by fellow socialist and later communist leader Clara Zetkin, supported by Käte Duncker, although no date was specified at that conference. Delegates (100 women from 17 countries) agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote equal rights including suffrage for women. The following year on March 19, 1911, IWD was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire alone, there were 300 demonstrations. In Vienna, women paraded on the Ringstrasse and carried banners honoring the martyrs of the Paris Commune. Women demanded that they be given the right to vote and to hold public office. They also protested against employment sex discrimination. The Americans continued to celebrate National Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February.
In 1913, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Saturday in February (by the Julian calendar then used in Russia).
In 1914, International Women’s Day was held on March 8 in Germany, possibly because that day was a Sunday, and now it is always held on March 8 in all countries. The 1914 observance of the Day in Germany was dedicated to women’s right to vote, which German women did not win until 1918.
In London, there was a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage on March 8, 1914. Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square.
On March 8, 1917, on the Gregorian calendar, in the capital of the Russian Empire, Petrograd, women textile workers began a demonstration, covering the whole city. This marked the beginning of the February Revolution, which alongside the October Revolution made up the Russian Revolution. Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day for “Bread and Peace” – demanding the end of World War I, an end to Russian food shortages, and the end of czarism. Leon Trotsky wrote, “23 February (8th March) was International Woman’s Day and meetings and actions were foreseen. But we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’ would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in the morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike… all went out into the streets.” Seven days later, the Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II abdicated and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.
Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai and Vladimir Lenin made it an official holiday in the Soviet Union, but it was a working day until 1965. On May 8, 1965, by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women’s Day was declared a non-working day in the USSR “in commemoration of the outstanding merits of Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Fatherland during the Great Patriotic War, in their heroism and selflessness at the front and in the rear, and also marking the great contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples, and the struggle for peace. But still, women’s day must be celebrated as are other holidays.”
From its official adoption in Soviet Russia following the Revolution in 1917, the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist countries and by the communist movement worldwide. It was celebrated by the communists in China from 1922. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, the State Council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.
Communist leader Dolores Ibárruri led a women’s march in Madrid in 1936 on the eve of the Spanish Civil War.
The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day in the International Women’s Year, 1975. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.
The day is an official holiday in Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zambia.
In some countries, such as Cameroon, Croatia, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Chile, the day is not a public holiday, but is widely observed nonetheless. On this day it is customary for men to give the women in their lives – friends, mothers, wives, girlfriends, daughters, colleagues, etc. – flowers and small gifts. In some countries (such as Bulgaria and Romania) it is also observed as an equivalent of Mother’s Day, where children also give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers. In Russia, the day has lost all political context through the time, becoming simply a day to honor women and feminine beauty.
In the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, huge Soviet-style celebrations were held annually. After the fall of Communism, the holiday, generally considered to be one of the major symbols of the old regime, fell into obscurity. International Women’s Day was re-established as an official “important day” by the Parliament of the Czech Republic in 2004 on the proposal of the Social Democrats and Communists. This has provoked some controversy as a large part of the public as well as the political right see the holiday as a relic of the nation’s Communist past.
International Women’s Day sparked violence in Tehran, Iran on March 4, 2007, when police beat hundreds of men and women who were planning a rally. A previous rally for the occasion was held in Tehran in 2003. Police arrested dozens of women and some were released after several days of solitary confinement and interrogation. Shadi Sadr, Mahbubeh Abbasgholizadeh and several more community activists were released on March 19, 2007, ending a fifteen-day hunger strike.
In Italy, to celebrate the day, men give yellow mimosas to women. Communist politician Teresa Mattei chose the mimosa in 1946 as the symbol of IWD in Italy because she felt that the French symbols of the day, violets and lily-of-the-valley, were too scarce and expensive to be used effectively in Italy.
In the United States, actress and human rights activist Beata Pozniak worked with the Mayor of Los Angeles and the Governor of California to lobby members of the U.S. Congress to propose official recognition of the holiday. In February 1994, H. J. Res. 316 was introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters, along with 79 cosponsors, in an attempt to officially recognize March 8 of that year as International Women’s Day. The bill was subsequently referred to, and remained in, the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service. No vote of either house of Congress was achieved on this piece of legislation.
As of 2019, International Women’s Day will also be celebrated as a public holiday in the federal state of Berlin, Germany.
The following is listing of International Women’s Day stamps. It is by no means complete, but it is an interesting topical. All images in this article have been sourced from eBay or Wikipedia.