Not like Valentine’s Day, which is about love and chocolate, or Mother’s Day, which is about sentimentality and breakfast in bed, International Women’s Day is about equality and autonomy.
The first commemoration occurred on March 19, 1911, a time when most governments in the world, including the U.S. and Canada, barred women from voting and most employers refused to hire women, ghettoizing them in sweatshops.
Six days after that first international call to action for women, flames engulfed such a sweatshop, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City, killing 146 workers, the vast majority of them young women aged 16 to 25, some of whom jumped to their deaths from the 9th floor rather than burn.
Women can vote now. They can hold most jobs, though not all, including combat positions in the U.S. military. And their pay is only 75 percent of men’s. So the struggle for equality and autonomy is not over. Yet the GOP is intent on setting women back. If the Republican governors across the country succeed in confiscating collective bargaining rights from public sector workers, women will be hurt most.
The grotesque working conditions at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, including locked and blocked exit doors, a failed fire escape, and fire hazards such as oily floors and wicker baskets of scraps, will be invoked on this centennial commemoration of International Women’s Day, as they were during observances in the early years after the tragedy. These conditions epitomized the very kind of oppression that International Women’s Day had been created to eradicate.
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