Herizons Commentary

Celebrate IWD and Learn About Women's Rights History  by Penni Mitchell
Celebrate IWD and Learn About Women's Rights History

Most of us can scarcely imagine what life was like for women 100 years ago, and it doesn't help that stereotypes and myths about the lives of our great-grandmothers  render invisible the powerful history of women in Canada.

International Women's Day (IWD) is a day when we remember our history, and the strong sisterhood of feminists who fought for equal rights as citizens and workers. It was at the Second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen that German socialists Luise Zietz and Clara Zetkin championed the idea of an International Women’s Day, a day when women would demand improvements to women’s working lives, as well as equal suffrage. Delegates from 17 countries endorsed agreed.  IWD was first marked by a million women in European countries on March 19, 1911. IWD would later be celebrated around the world, from South Africa to Bosnia, on March 8th.

Tragically, the vulnerability of female factory workers was underscored on March 25, 1911, when 146 workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York died in a blaze in which the building’s exits were locked. Of the dead, 129 were Jewish and Italian female immigrants. Many jumped to their deaths, engulfed in billowy flames, as they fell 10 storeys.

The sweat shop fire laid to rest the myth that female workers were only temporary participants in the labour force and didn’t deserve the same protections as male workers.  In Canada, the 1911 B.C. Factory Act restricted women’s work to 8 hours per day within a maximum 48 hour work week. And in response to women’s demands, provinces began to hire female factory inspectors for the first time.  Minimum wage acts were passed, another demand by feminists who wanted to ensure women were not paid "sweat" wages.

A hundred years ago, these struggles were part of daily life. And 100 years from now, the struggles we face today will be chronicled as historic milestones by our great grand-daughters. They will write about how feminists fought to end rape  by changing laws and taking police and judges to task. They will write about women's struggles to stop the pervasive violence and discrimination faced by Indigenous women. And they will write about how it took more than 100 years for all women to be paid the same wages as men.  One day, they will write about the leadership of their American sisters in taking down U.S. President Donald Trump, who will go down in history as the misogynist who bragged about women, saying he said he liked to "grab them by the pussy."

The issues Herizons magazine writes about today are tomorrow's victories for gender justice. Feminists are making history every day and it is important for everyone who is a feminist to support the recorders of tomorrow's feminist history. At Herizons, we're marking IWD 2017 by giving new Herizons subscribers a complimentary copy of  my book about the history of women's rights in Canada. It's called About Canada: Women's Rights and is published by Fernwood Books.  The book (value $17.50) will be sent out to everyone who orders a 3-year subscription to Herizons, Canada's foremost feminist magazine, between March 8 and March 15th, 2017.  The cost of a 3-year subscription is $60.50 (plus taxes). If you're already a Herizons subscriber, you can renew your subscription for 3 years online and receive About Canada: Women's Rights, or you can buy a 3-year gift subscription and we'll send you a copy.

Please help keep Herizons feminist voice strong and celebrate IWD by demonstrating your support! And do share this invitation with your feminist friends and networks!