© Midia Ninja

By Iara PIETRICOVSKY, Co-director of the Institute of Social and Economic Studies (INESC, Brasilia), Executive Director of the Brazilian Association of NGOs in Brazil (ABONG) & Forus Chair  

History has shown that International Women’s Day began on 25th March 1911, when 130 female workers in the USA were burnt at a textile factory.  However, the struggle for civil and political rights, considered the first generations of human rights, began long before that, with the struggles of the suffragettes on the European and North American continents, still only in the 19th century. In the early 20th century, on 8th March 1917, in Russia, women fought against poor working conditions and starvation, in direct criticism of Tsar Nicholas II. The protest became known as “BREAD and PEACE”. Many fights and meetings, debates, literature and reflections have been led by important women, opening the way for the broad spectrum of rights achieved today in most countries.  

In 1921, this day became known as International Women’s Day.  

In 1945, the United Nations (UN) signed the first agreement in which it affirmed the principles of equality between men and women; however, it was only in 1977 that “8th March” was officially recognised by the UN. Since then, the struggles have continued to advance and retreat according to the women’s movement’s capacity to renew their lines and prove themselves stronger in the face of the world’s patriarchalism and hegemonic machismo. Today, it is even more conservative, less flexible and less supportive. Therefore, our struggle continues, without an ending sight.  

Key topics on the agenda of women’s struggle for rights and recognition:  

1) The fight against racism. We know that in the world, violence and inequality mainly affect black, trans and lesbian women.  

2) Gender. This concept is subject to dispute and the Conservatives, especially on the extreme right of power, want to abolish the concept of gender, seeing it as harmful and discriminatory. The inverse of what all definitions of human rights proclaim, in their different generations, whether civil, political, social, economic, cultural or environmental. 

3) The fight against violence. Violence against women is a global, epidemic phenomenon. It is seen from birth with selective abortion, beatings during pregnancy; in childhood with female infanticide, physical, sexual and psychological abuse; in pre-adolescence with child marriage, female genital mutilation, physical, sexual and psychological abuse, child prostitution and pornography; in adulthood, violence and beatings in relationships and/or marriage, financial coercion, incest, rape, moral and sexual harassment, murder, and in old age, forced “suicide”, for financial reasons amongst others. 

4) Civil liberties. Even today, there are women who do not have autonomy from their husband or fathers. They do not have the right to divorce and to deal with and make decisions on their own life. 

5) Birth control: my body is my territory. The fight for sexual and reproductive rights, too, is a reality for most societies on the planet. 

6) The fight for the right to education. This right appeared for white women in the 19th century. Black women had to pursue their own fight to gain the same right. There are still countries which deny women this fundamental right. 

7) The right to vote. The right to demonstrate and vote arose simultaneously in the USA and Europe in the 19th century. And there are still countries where women do not have this right. 

8) The right to decent work. Equal pay for white, black and indigenous women, and for women and men. Acknowledgement of women’s double burden. 

Forus is a network of regional platforms and NGO coalitions committed to fighting for all women in the world which, united and aware, will make the necessary moves for a fair, sustainable, and supportive world, united in solidarity.