International Women’s Day: Be Like Clara Zetkin, By Owei Lakemfa
– Clara Zetkin
On June 20, 1933 while the struggle against Nazism was on, Zetkin, the unbowed fighter for women, trade union and human rights, took a bow from the world… However, her struggles for emancipation is typified in the global acceptance of March 8, as International Women’s Day. It is an idea whose time has come.
The International Women’s Day marked this Wednesday, March 8, was like a whirlwind. Across the globe, humanity felt the strength of womanhood. Women went on strike in various countries to press for fundamental rights, and as part of a consciousness that women can change the world. Strikes by women swept through Asian countries like Thailand, Philippines and India. A striker in India, Elizabeth Khumallambam of Nari Shakti Manch, explained the reason behind the strikes: “Women working in unorganised sector continue to face discrimination – unequal wages, sexual harassment at workplaces, absence of social security and maternity benefits. In voicing these suppressions, our strength lies in solidarity across spectrums.”
In Nigeria, the Ekiti State Government staged an unprecedented mass rally celebrating women and highlighting their plight. However, some of the most dramatic commemorations were in the United States, where mass rallies and strikes were held under the campaign: ‘A Day Without Women.’ They protested against economic inequality, violence, attacks on reproductive rights and the violation of civil liberties. The American Districts of Virginia and North Carolina shut schools after teachers, cooks, bus drivers and other non-teaching staff decided to stay away in solidarity with women.
The strike organisers, including famous activist, Angela Davis, asked women who may not be able to go on strike, to wear red colours as a show of solidarity, adding that: “Many women in our most vulnerable communities will not have the ability to join the strike, due to economic insecurity. We strike for them.”
American President Donald Trump, who has been having running battles with women groups over his sexist attitudes, twitted what seemed like a truce: “On International Women’s Day, join me in honoring the critical role of women here in America and around the world…I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy…”
His Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, whose country observes the Day as a public holiday, wrote a love letter to all women: “Dear women: mothers, grandmothers, daughters, wives, friends, our nearest and dearest ones, please accept my heartfelt congratulations on International Women’s Day! You fill this world with beauty and vitality, giving warmth and comfort, cordiality and harmony with your tenderness and generosity of spirit. You care day and night for your children, grandchildren and your family. Even today, on International Women’s Day, you are still caught up in your routine, working tirelessly, always on time. We often ask ourselves, how do they manage it all?”
…the March 8 International Women’s Day did not happen by accident; it was the product of campaigns and struggles led by socialist women, notably two German Internationalists; Clara Zetkin and Roxa Luxemberg.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) lamented that women in the Middle East work “under government surveillance, risk of persecution, detention and torture for demanding their basic rights such as social rights in Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and political rights in Bahrain, while others are struggling to have a voice in shrinking civil spaces in countries including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.”
Many countries like Madagascar, Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso in Africa, and states like Afghanistan, China Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Belarus, Cuba, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam and Bulgaria, mark the Day as a public holiday, especially for women.
Yet, the March 8 International Women’s Day did not happen by accident; it was the product of campaigns and struggles led by socialist women, notably two German Internationalists; Clara Zetkin and Roxa Luxemberg.
Women’s Day had been marked in one way or another, but in 1910 at the Second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, 53-year old Zetkin campaigned and tabled a motion for a Day for women to protest against oppression and inequality. The International Women’s Day was not about feminism, sexism or women’s right to vote; it was centred on the emancipation of all humanity from oppression, repression, greed, discrimination and want. Therefore, the adopted Day was initially called ‘International Working Women’s Day.’
It was not sexism; Zetkin was clear on the role women should play in global peace and development. She told them: “When the men are silent, it is our duty to raise our voices in behalf of our ideals” and “When the men kill, it is up to us women to fight for the preservation of life”. She said there should be solidarity between men and women workers because: “What made women’s labour particularly attractive to the capitalists was not only its lower price but also the greater submissiveness of women.” She argued that: “The capitalists speculate on the two following factors:
“the female worker must be paid as poorly as possible and the competition of female labour must be employed to lower the wages of male workers as much as possible.” Zetkin therefore argued that: “Women’s propaganda must touch upon all those questions which are of great importance to the general proletarian movement. The main task is, indeed, to awaken the women’s class consciousness and to incorporate them into the class struggle.”
In 1913, March 8, was formally adopted by many groups across the world as International Women’s Day. On March 1, 1917, women began protests in Russia against the continuation of the First World War, which had claimed two million lives. Four days into the women’s protests and general social upheaval, Czar Nicholas II abdicated.
Her analysis of the position of women in society is that: “She is still dependent upon her husband. The guardianship of the weaker sex has survived in the family law which still states: And he shall be your master.” But she added that with the development of an alternative philosophical thought by Karl Marx (Marxism): “The old superstition that the position of women in the family and in society was forever unchangeable because it was created on moral precepts or by divine revelation was smashed.”
In 1913, March 8, was formally adopted by many groups across the world as International Women’s Day. On March 1, 1917, women began protests in Russia against the continuation of the First World War, which had claimed two million lives. Four days into the women’s protests and general social upheaval, Czar Nicholas II abdicated. These events led to the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, which swept the revolutionaries led by her friend and comrade, Vladimir Lenin into power. Zetkin and other German revolutionaries tried to carry out a similar revolution in Germany. Zetkin who was a member of the German Parliament from 1920 to 1933 when fascist Germany under Adolf Hitler banned the Communist Party, was to lament: “Fascism is the punishment inflicted on the proletariat for not having continued the revolution begun in Russia.”
On June 20, 1933 while the struggle against Nazism was on, Zetkin, the unbowed fighter for women, trade union and human rights, took a bow from the world. She did not live to see the unimaginable tragedy fascism inflicted on humanity, including the Second World War, an attempt to exterminate the Jews and untold human suffering. However, her struggles for emancipation is typified in the global acceptance of March 8, as International Women’s Day. It is an idea whose time has come.
Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General of African Workers is a Human Rights activist, journalist and author.