Shawna Marks, a PhD candidate, speaker, writer & educator shared this blog post, which was based on talk that she delivered to a business, as part of International Women’s Day.
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Read an except of her speech below:
International Women’s Day began as International Working Women’s Day and was not a celebration of working women so much as a way to memorialise women who had died due to unsafe working conditions and through the suffrage and labour rights movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The day was instigated by socialist women and only celebrated in socialist and communist countries until it was co-opted by the feminist movement through the 1960s and 1970s. United Nations also began celebrating the day during this time period. Although International Women’s Day was borne out of the socialist movement, today it is traditionally associated with feminism. As feminism has become more popular and therefore more palatable, more and more workplaces are under pressure to hold International Women’s Day celebrations.
154 garment workers were killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, largely due to unsafe working conditions. The majority of workers who died were women and the factory employed mostly young immigrant women.
Modern iterations of International Women’s Day generally consist of morning teas, breakfasts, or luncheons and are usually important networking opportunities for women in business. These events often celebrate women’s achievements, particularly in business and corporate sectors. Some workplaces whose core offering exists in social justice play a more active role in the day by using it as an opportunity to educate others about gender-based discrimination, and particularly violence against women. There is also an annual march held in cities around the world to mark the day, where women and other genders come together to listen to speeches from local social justice advocates and march peacefully. This kind of an occasion is sombre but celebratory.