March 8th, a day of feminist struggle

For over a century, March 8th has held significant meaning for feminists worldwide. Where does the idea of a specific date for gender equality come from? And what is its significance in Switzerland today?

As March 8th draws near, you might notice flashy ads promising discounts on everything from perfumes to flowers, often touting the day as “Women’s Day”. But don’t be fooled by the commercial hype! March 8th is so much more than just a sales event. It is a powerful reminder of the diverse experiences of women and the ongoing battle against gender discrimination. These ads not only reinforce outdated stereotypes but also trivialize the hard-fought victories for women’s rights throughout history. March 8th stands as a symbol of feminist resilience and progress towards equality. So, let’s take a moment to reflect on why this day matters and what we are truly celebrating.

International Women’s Day

The idea of an International Women’s Day traces back to August 1910, as the International Socialist Women’s Conference was taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark. Among the attendees was the notable German journalist and feminist Clara Zetkin who, inspired by the American socialist movement, proposed the establishment of an annual “Women’s Day”.  Although no specific date was initially set, the purpose was clear: to advance equal rights, particularly women’s suffrage.

The proposal gained traction among the 100 delegates from 17 countries, marking the inception of International Women’s Day. Fast forward to Switzerland in 1911, where the Swiss Union of Women Workers took up the cause, designating the 8th of March as the symbolic date for this movement. Over the years, the agenda of International Women’s Day has expanded to encompass various demands, from access to education to combating discrimination and violence, and advocating for women’s autonomy over their bodies.

Despite persistent efforts, Switzerland has long lagged behind. It wasn’t until 1971 that women gained federal voting rights, followed by the right to open a bank account without spousal consent in 1988, and the criminalization of marital rape in 2004.

Persistent inequalities

Despite progress made in recent decades, the road to equality is still a long one. Women, as well as trans intersex and non-binary people, are still disproportionately exposed to gender-based violence and discrimination today. Swiss statistics (1) paint a stark picture:

– On average, women earn 43.2% less than men (2)

– 60.5% of women have reduced their work hours to care for their children, as opposed to 14.4% of men (3)

– 16% of gender minorities have faced physical assaults due to their gender identity (4)

– 59% of women have experienced unwanted touching, hugging or kissing (5)

– One in five women have been subjected to non-consensual sexual acts (6)

The rights of women and gender minorities are far from secure; recent assaults on abortion rights in Western countries and the resurgence of reactionary movements serve as grim reminders. Beyond March 8th, it’s crucial to elevate the fight for equality as a continuous social, political, and collective endeavor.

What’s happening on March 8th 2024?

From March 1st to 10th, the City of Geneva is hosting an Equality Week focused on ecofeminism. Delving into the intricate connections between gender inequality and the environmental crisis, the Service Agenda 21 has prepared a lineup of activities tailored for the general public, including school workshops and the release of a bibliography.

Events at la Collective :

  • Running from March 7th to 31st, Swiss-Algerian artist Nadia Merzoug (LINK : ) will exhibit “Les femmes disparaissent”, a thought-provoking exploration of the male gaze and the marginalization of women in the film industry.
  • On Saturday, March 9th, from 2 pm to 6:30 pm, NOUSSOMMES will host a workshop titled “What ecofeminist practices for men?” (in French)
  • Saturday March 9th from 10am to 5pm a workshop entitled “On en a marre” (LINK) will be organised by Viol-Secours and Jeannine et la scie sauteuse collective (in French) 
  • Saturday March 9th from 9am to 4.30pm, conference and workshop “Trésors du passé, forces du présent: explorer l’héritage des femmes” organized by Ressources Mindfulness association

Join the march organised by the Collectif de la Grève féministe (LINK) and/or follow the programme of the University of Geneva’s Equality & Diversity Service.

Second Congress of the Socialist International, Copenhagen 1910.
In the centre: Alexandra Kollantaï and Clara Zetkin
Wikimedia Commons