International Women’s Day was celebrated early this year in Fredericton. Over thirty people gathered at Renaissance College on Sunday, March 6, to mark the special day with a potluck, which has been a long standing tradition in Fredericton.
After sharing food, participants gathered in a circle and spoke of their work furthering women’s equality, rights and health as volunteers, activists, artists, academics or professionals.
Displays of information were set up by members of the NB Coalition for Pay Equity, Fredericton Peace Coalition, Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre, Liberty Lane, NB RebELLEs, UNB Sexuality Centre, UNB Women’s Studies and the Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
Donations were collected at the door and given to the NB Coalition for Pay Equity, which spearheaded the organizing of the potluck this year. In April 2010, the coalition found out that the federal government would not be renewing their funding. They have been forced to fundraise this past year to continue their work of advocating for pay equity in the public and private sectors in the province.
Cavelle MacDonnell, an artist now living in Fredericton, showcased the art of women from around the world.
In 1910, Clara Zetkin, a German Social Democrat, tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day at the Second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Denmark. She proposed that International Women’s Day be a time to bring forth demands of working women. Over 100 women from 17 countries attended the conference. They represented unions, socialist parties and women’s groups. Zetkin’s suggestion was unanimously approved by the conference goers and the first International Women’s Day was celebrated a year later in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19, 1911.
Less than a week after the first International Women’s Day was marked, on March 25, 1911, a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City killed 146 garment workers, most of them young Jewish and Italian immigrant women. Rose Schneiderman, a union organizer said at a memorial for the victims days after the fire, “This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death.”
One hundred years later, in 2011, working women and men continue to work in deplorable conditions. Schneiderman concluded her speech, I Have Found You Wanting, with words that ring true for many today, “Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.”
International Women’s Day is an official holiday in many countries including Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Laos, Madagascar, Russia and Vietnam.