How International Women’s Day Came To Be

Lately there has been a lot of talk and controversy over several different high-profile examples of violence against women in the past couple of years. From CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi to Bill Cosby to just recently Dr. Luke, Kesha’s producer, we can see that violence against a woman’s basic rights is as rampant today as it was a century ago. Whether all of these allegations are true—it’s not up to me to decide. What is the difference between today and the yesterday of our past?

Before women had a voice in the public sphere, they were the victims of much cruelty. Let’s start our history at the year 1800. Violence against prostitutes was one of the most common violent acts against women from the beginning of this history. Wife beating was also very common. Have you ever heard of the “rule of thumb?” Before the 1850s, the man was allowed to beat his wife with a stick no bigger than his thumb. A man could beat his wife if he found it necessary to curb any disobedience or disrespect under his authority. After the 1850s, women could divorce their husbands on grounds of violent assault.

Before 1909, it was legal to abduct any woman over 16, unless she was an heiress. And even then…the maximum penalty for abducting a cow was higher than the penalty for abducting an heiress! The Criminal Code was amended in 1909, stating that the abduction of women was no longer legal.

Any kind of domestic violence in the early 1900s was never really infringed upon by the police force since the thinking of the time was that it was a private matter. During the “Roaring Twenties” violence against women seemed to ascend. Wouldn’t you think so if the mentality of the time was that of no self-restraint, spend, and do what you want because it’s a party all the time? Once the “Roaring Twenties” moved into the “Great Depression,” women tended to remain with their partners even though domestic violence was part of their lives. They needed a provider to bring in the money when it had become so scarce especially with children in the picture.

The first time Women’s Day was observed was February 28, 1909 in New York. Throughout the twentieth century Women’s Day was celebrated all over Europe, some focusing on the achievements women brought to society, others focusing on women’s rights. International Women’s Day was first popularly celebrated on March 8, 1977 by the UN, its focus on world peace and women’s rights.

The world is still the same in some ways. Violence against women, the suppression of women and their rights will always be present in some form or other. And yet we can rejoice that women’s rights are much more respected. We have options that never existed before. We have the ability to go before the courts and ask for recompense for the damage made when sexually assaulted. There are countless women’s shelters ready to help those in need. The “sisterhood feel” of this decade is comforting, encouraging, and empowering. Let’s be thankful for the good changes that have come about, and let’s continue to be there for one another, women. There is no competition. We each have a voice, and let every voice be heard.

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