Forty years since International Women’s Year
On 8 March this year women around the world celebrated forty years since International Women’s Year. Although this special United Nations’ mandated day to celebrate women’s achievements was celebrated in 1975, women had been marking International Women’s Day (IWD) for much longer.
Although its origins are slightly confused, it is known that a Women’s Day observance was held on 28 February 1909 in New York, organised by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Then in August 1910 at an International Women’s Conference in Denmark, German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed the establishment of an International Woman’s Day, to promote equal rights and women’s suffrage.
International Women’s Day was observed for the first time on 19 March 1911, mainly by women in Denmark, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Women used the day to demand the right to vote and hold public office, and protested against sex discrimination in employment. IWD was held on 8 March for the first time in 1914. On that day suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst launched a new publication in London, The Woman’s Dreadnought, and was also arrested in a suffragette demonstration in Trafalgar Square.
Since its birth in the socialist movement, IWD has become a global day of recognition and celebration. Women’s organisations and governments around the world have also observed IWD annually on 8 March by holding large-scale events that honour the rights of women and girls.
In 1974 the Whitlam Government announced a suite of activities and programs for International Women’s Year (IWY) the following year. Over two years it spent over $3.3 million on projects and activities to celebrate the year. The three main objectives of IWY were to change attitudes towards women, reduce discrimination, and encourage women’s creativity. The Advisory Committee allocated funding to individuals and groups for projects that supported these objectives.
In its collection the museum has an exhibition that was the result of the IWY program. In 1975 Elizabeth Boesel was the only female member of the Parramatta City Council. She was appointed Parramatta City Council’s IWY Committee convenor and was given a $3000 government grant to fund an exhibition titled ‘Fifty Famous Australian Women’. The exhibition, which featured portraits and biographies of 50 well known Australian women, was displayed in the Old Post Office building at Parramatta for several months throughout 1975, and then toured the country. Of the choice of 50 Australian women Elizabeth Boesel said at the time: ‘It seemed an obvious project for the year. After all, we’ve all heard of our famous men. It’s time women had a chance’. Unknown local women also had a voice in the exhibition, and hand-stitched banners featuring the IWY logo of a dove and the international symbol for women flew outside the Parramatta Post Office building.
On this fortieth anniversary of an important year for women the museum recognises and applauds the efforts of Elizabeth Boesel and women like her for their efforts to mark this important milestone.