When you see women wearing purple on March 8 every year, it can mean one thing: a celebration of International Women’s Day. March is Women in History Month, so it’s a great time to double down on the opportunity to recognize women in countries everywhere. The main focus behind efforts to create a women’s month
is to highlight the achievements of females worldwide, regardless of their culture, economic level, ethnicity or politics.
History of Global Women’s Rights
The United States celebrated its first International Women’s Day on February 28, 1909.
The Council on Foreign Relations website looks back even further, emphasizing the history leading up to the present time when we celebrate women much more freely.
It begins in 1792, when philosopher and writer Mary Wollstonecraft published “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.” In her treatise, Wollstonecraft makes an argument that women merely lack education, they aren’t naturally inferior to men. She also makes a pitch for co-educational learning.
About 50 years later, abolitionists were leaders in the Seneca Falls Convention, which led others to press for more women’s rights. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton led delegates in presenting the Declaration of Sentiments in 1848 beginning with “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The First International Women’s Day
On March 19, 1911, International Women’s Day was recognized in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Denmark. A meeting in Copenhagen the year before set in motion an act of one day per year to honor the women’s rights movement.
The goal at the time was primarily universal suffrage. It involved a million women and men, who went to rallies, urging each woman to achieve the right to vote, to gain vocational training, hold public office and become a member of the labor force without discrimination.
The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was adopted December 10, 1948. It was the first time an international document asserted “the dignity and worth of the human person and the equal rights of men and women.”
The UN adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women in 1979. Women’s rights were recognized worldwide as fundamental in 1995 at the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women.
And finally, there was the record-breaking Women’s March on Washington, D.C. in 2017. The event was the largest one-day protest in the history of the United States. There were simultaneously more than 600 cities holding marches the same day and the marches continue to be held annually.
Important Figures in the Women’s Rights Movement
About 100 years of activism led up to the first time women had the right to vote, and the effort came from a wide variety of Americans, which are outlined in an article on History.com.
Susan B. Anthony
Born in 1820 to a Quaker family, Susan B. Anthony grew up in Massachusetts, raised to be an independent woman. Like her family, she believed in treating men and women as equals, in part to complete a mission to eradicate cruelty and injustice in the world.
She became a women’s suffragette as part of the cause of temperance while teaching at a girls’ school in New York. Believing that imbibing alcohol was a sin for anyone, Anthony felt it was worse when men were drinkers because it typically resulted in poverty and/or violence, which was harmful to women and children.
It was one reason women needed to gain the right to vote – to affect legislation for the sake of moral causes. She campaigned for married women’s property rights in 1853 and became a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1856.
At the end of the Civil War, Anthony wouldn’t join the fight for an Amendment to give black Americans the vote until they included women. The National American Woman Suffrage Association was formed in 1890 and Anthony was elected its first president. She died March 13, 1906 before seeing the success of the 19th amendment, which gave women the vote in 1920.
Taking a more militant approach than her predecessors, Alice Paul led more assertive activists in the women’s suffrage movement. Like Susan B. Anthony, she was also born to Quakers – but 65 years later, in 1885.
The New Jersey native earned a biology degree from Swarthmore College and a Ph.D. in sociology at University of Pennsylvania. As a graduate school student, she went to London and discovered the Women’s Social and Political Union, which was a radical group. She brought more extreme tactics back to the U.S. when returning in 1910.
Paul established the National American Woman Suffrage Association and was one of the members to coordinate a parade during President Wilson’s inauguration.
She was put in jail for some of her flamboyant protests, even enduring solitary confinement and force-fed throughout a hunger strike that she and her colleagues conducted. But it actually helped their cause. When people heard about the brutal tactics by law enforcement, public sympathy went their way.
After they got the vote, Alice Paul proceeded to push her cause, this time advocating for an Equal Rights Amendment.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Another big name in the earliest days of women’s rights was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was born in 1815 in upstate New York. She grew up in a wealthy family who supported a climate of reform activism.
In 1840 she married Henry Brewster Stanton, who joined forces with her in promoting the abolition of slavery. When they went to London to attend the World Anti-Slavery Convention they weren’t allowed to attend because Elizabeth Stanton was female.
A few years later, she was a part of planning the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. There were 100 delegates – 68 women and 32 men.
Ida B. Wells
A Mississippi native born in 1862, Ida B. Wells was a black journalist who became dedicated to the cause of eradicating lynchings. She was a teacher writing for a black newspaper in Memphis and voiced her opinions condemning injustice to African Americans in the South. It was the time of Jim Crow laws, where there was segregation, disenfranchisement and a lack of education.
When Wells exposed such practices through her writing, she developed enemies, which finally drove her away from Memphis through the rise of angry mobs and threats to her safety.
Wells joined the suffrage parade at the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson in 1913.
The Role of Men in Promoting Equality Among the Sexes
While celebrating women is an important part of a society’s experience, making true gains in eliminating gender bias is the ultimate goal.
Most men agree that women need their help when it comes to creating a society where both genders are treated equally.
There are differences, however, in how much is expected of men in order to create a proper balance, according to the King’s College Global Institute for Women’s Leadership in London. Forty-three percent of people say that men are expected to contribute too much to the cause and 46 percent disagree with that opinion.
An International Women’s Day annual study found that half of those surveyed believe that young women are destined for better lives than their mothers were. Approximately 65 percent say that gender equality is important to them.
Another change is how childcare decisions are viewed by individuals throughout the world. Three-quarters of people polled contend that a man staying home to take care of his children is perfectly reasonable, where no stigma remains. When asked about working for a female boss, the same percentage gave an affirmative response.
World View: Issues Facing Women
The same study through King’s College analyzed the main detriments to progress for women. Citizens of European countries tend to see equal pay as a top women's issue, while globally, 30 percent of men and women choose sexual harassment as the main problem for women.
Residents of various countries had differing views on domestic abuse. The following statistics show the number of respondents claiming abuse as women’s most pressing issue:
Asians held a different view, however. Thirty-one percent of South Koreans and 26 percent of Japanese individuals say that the balance of work and childcare makes the biggest impact on the goal of gender equality.
When it comes to solving the balance of power between the sexes, most of those surveyed believe education is the arena where equality will be seen first. Nearly 50 percent believe that women will cease to experience discrimination within the next two decades.
How can you celebrate women this month?
Ideally, we all make choices that benefit others throughout our lives. But bringing the importance of women’s issues to the forefront is a reminder that there are things all of us can do – no matter how small or insignificant.
Donate your car to women-focused nonprofit organizations.
Have you been considering a change in vehicle? Are you starting to shop around? You can use that opportunity this month to make a car donation to women through a worthy non-profit. Through Cars2Charities, the value of your vehicle can benefit any 501(c)(3).
Maybe you know a female-led charity that could use some cash for its cause. We work with hundreds of organizations benefiting women, including Single Mothers Outreach and Walnut Avenue Family & Women's Center.
Would you like to provide resources for girls? You can donate a car to the Girl Scouts and invest in the leaders of tomorrow. And it’s very, very simple. Pick up your phone and either donate on our website or give us a call at 855-520-2100.
Let Cash Benefit Women
If it’s not time for an upgrade, or you don’t plan to “go green” with a new hybrid, you can make cash donations to female-centered charities as well.
And there are other uses for your money that promote women’s causes. When was the last time you went to hear a female music act? And there are almost always films in theatres with largely female cast members.
If you like movies created from comic book characters, check out “Wonder Woman” and the newest “Captain Marvel.” They are pushing the narrative of female super powers through media exposure.
On the nonfiction side of things, there are also a few TV specials and movies about “the notorious RBG” (Ruth Bader Ginsberg). She’s an inspiration to so many. In a country that’s more than 200 years old there have only been four female justices on the Supreme Court: currently, that’s RBG, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The first justice, who served from 1981 to 2005, was Sandra Day O’Connor.
If you love comedy, you can support female comediennes by seeing their shows when their tour brings them near you. Of course, comics like Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman can sell out Madison Square Garden, and Ellen DeGeneres tours every few years, which you can catch on Netflix. But there are other lesser-known talents who are right behind them. Tig Notaro, Wanda Sykes and Margaret Cho are examples of successful women in the business.
For live theatre, check your town’s stage shows. When plays like “Steel Magnolias,” “Little Women” and “Auntie Mame” are in production, get a ticket to support them.
There are many ways to draw attention to both the plight of women and celebrate their many victories this month. International Women’s Day brings with it the synergy of worldwide recognition, which tends to multiply the benefits.