On the 8th of March, we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). Nowadays, we talk about it as a traditional celebration, not thoroughly thinking about the fights and lives sacrificed to achieve this small and monumental token of celebration. We ought to remember when it started and why it is essential for women’s rights.
The revolution began during the 20th century’s movements for the “universal suffrage movement” spreading in all Europe and North America, nurturing a wave of change in the minds of the Western population, as never seen before. In 1909 on the 28th of February, we had the first attempt of “Women’s Day” founded by the Social Party of America in New York City. Thousands of women marched the streets protesting against their poor working conditions a year prior.
In 1910, the International Socialist’s Women Conference was organised by a group of women delegates in Copenhagen and led by Clara Zetkin (a German socialist). They so decided to spread the movement of IWD, in order to instate the celebration in all Europe. While Europe and America were already spreading the vibes of a new beginning, we faced a country broken by wars and famine in Russia. It was not before the February Revolution in 1917 that women gained suffrage and made an official national holiday on the 8th of March. Their protests started a chain of events contributing to workers’ strikes from all sectors. A week later, they followed the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, leading to the downfall of the Russian Empire. The United Nations’ observance came just further in 1975.
We celebrate women’s cultural, social, economic, and political achievements in history on this day around the World, and the best way to do so is to hear people’s voices. However, we also want to remember the voices that were not heard before and celebrate them.
One of these voices is Lise Meitner, who experienced more than her fair share of discrimination in her life. Born in Vienna in 1878, she was the second woman in the World to receive a Doctorate in Physics. She dedicated herself to scientific discovery and the understanding of nuclear elements. She is often credited with the discovery of nuclear fission, which is considered a viable solution to climate change. As someone of Jewish heritage and a woman, her male colleagues often did not take her abilities and work seriously and consistently took credit for her discoveries. She was lucky to receive any credit at all, and oftentimes her name was removed from scientific papers and publications she authored. After the political success of the German National Democratic Party (NDP), her work was not even considered for publication by most institutions, with those who accepted her work often being dismissed from their positions. She later claimed asylum in Sweden, where she became a staunch critic of Swedish neutrality and continued her work and aided the construction of Sweden’s first nuclear reactor. However, she was consistently overlooked for professorships and was even unjustly removed from consideration for a Nobel Prize, awarded to her male collaborator Otto Hahn instead.
Lise’s voice is just one of the thousands that suffered injustices and sexism over the years, and even now, gender equality is not assured in all institutions or countries. That is why the theme of this year for IWD is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, enhancing the voices of the girls and women that drove the climate change movement in these years and are making an impact for our planet. Girls and women have to be empowered to be equal players in the sustainable movement to have equal opportunities in working together to a greener future.
Elizabeth Sole, (She/Her), Year 1, Law LLB (Hons)
Eleonora Venturini, BA (Hons) Creative Writing and English Literature