Celebrated worldwide, 8 March is considered International Women’s Day . The story of how this date was instituted is controversial and could be related to a factory fire during a strike.
A group of American workers died in the fire. Despite the uncertainties as to the real reason for the institution of this commemorative date, the truth is that International Women’s Day symbolizes, above all, the female struggle for equality and respect in a society that for a long time subjugated and inferiorized women in the most diverse aspects of its existence.
Versions for the origin of women’s day
The classic version
According to the version that was consecrated as true for a long time, International Women’s Day emerged in the following context: a textile factory on the industrial outskirts of New York, United States, is on fire. Hundreds of women are burned to death, trapped inside the factory. More than a tragedy, a crime that shocked the world.
Women had stopped their activities to claim reduced working hours and paid leave for pregnant women. The management of the factory refused to comply with his claims. The fire was criminal. The doors were closed and the women were locked.
For the bosses and local authorities, the death of the workers served as an exemplary act of what could happen to those who did not comply with the rules imposed by the powerful.
For women and organized workers in several countries, the workers became martyrs who strengthened the movement for the defense of women’s rights. Thus, March 8 began to be celebrated by unions and women’s associations from various countries.
More recently, this classic version of International Women’s Day has been challenged. According to sociologist Eva Alterman Blay, from the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at the University of São Paulo, “the accident reported above, from 1857, did not happen”.
The teacher says that the fire related to International Women’s Day happened on March 11, 1911, at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company , a textile factory that occupied three floors of a building in New York. The company had more than 600 employees, mostly Jewish and Italian women, aged between 13 and 23 years old. When the fire ended, the numbers of the tragedy were left: 125 women and 21 men killed. The collective funeral, held a few days later, brought together more than 100,000 people.
Today, the fire site corresponds to an area of New York University. There, a plaque recalls the tragedy: “In this place, on March 25, 1911, 146 workers lost their lives in the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. This martyrdom resulted in new concepts of social responsibility and labor legislation that helped to make our working conditions the best in the world ”.
Despite the influence of this event, Eva Blay argues that the process to establish International Women’s Day has been going on for some time. According to her, this date was already defended by Americans and Europeans linked to the socialist movement and it was realized through the initiative of Clara Zetkin in 1910, a German communist who during the II International Congress of Socialist Women proposed the commemorative date.
In view of all these versions, what is known for certain is that the day was officially instituted in 1975 by the UN. At that time in history, the feminist movement had already broken out in several countries and was increasingly gaining strength.
During the 19th century, in several countries in Europe and the Americas, the world of factories was a veritable jungle. There was no type of legislation to regulate the number of hours worked daily and working conditions.
People worked 16, 17 and even 18 hours a day, seven days a week, in unhealthy and poorly organized environments. Women, children and old people were forced to work long hours, often in strenuous activities.
There was no paid rest, vacation, health care, retirement. Patients or pregnant women were summarily dismissed when they could no longer keep up with the rhythm.
Labor-based organizations emerged at all points where there was an agglomeration of workers. Fights for rights could reach extremes of violence, like the arson that killed New York workers.
The first female demands were no different from the male: reduced working hours and decent wages.
But specific demands soon came: maternity leave, health conditions, the end of night work and the struggle for equal treatment not only in employment, but in all social areas: equal work and equal pay; equal access to studies and jobs; voting rights; and, more recently, right over the body itself.
Some rights, such as voting rights, have already been won in most countries in the world. However, women, on average, still earn less than men for the same function, have worse working conditions and occupy less valued professions.