November 1999

March 8, now commonly known as International Women's Day actually has its origins in the militant actions of working class women, particularly in Europe and the United States in the 1800's, the period of great social upheaval brought about by the industrial revolution.

It was on March 8, 1857 when women workers first marched on the streets of New York City. Majority of the demonstrators were workers from the garments industry who protested against low wages, 12-hour working day and generally inhuman working conditions. The demonstration was, however, attacked by police and many workers were injured and arrested.

But it was March 8, 1908 which signaled the first wave of massive militant actions by women workers when thirty thousand (30,000) women again marched on the streets over the same issues along with demands for the right of suffrage for women and for an end to child labor.

In 1910, representatives of the International Labor Movement declared March 8 as International Day of Working Women in commemoration of these earlier actions and the important role of women in the labor movement. The declaration was led by Clara Zetkin, a socialist and German labor leader.

Then on, women's groups began the annual commemoration of March 8, including those from the socialist countries, US and Western Europe. It was later adopted by the United Nations (UN) and became known as "International Women's Day".

In the Philippines, the first known commemoration of March 8 was on March 8, 1971. Hundreds of women from the KATIPUNAN or Katipunan ng Bagong Kababaihan staged an all-women rally against the issue of poverty. The rally was spearheaded by women of MAKIBAKA, an organization comprised mainly of women students and mothers from the urban poor communities; members of the Kabataang Makabayan-Women's Bureau and those from the SDK or Samahan rig Demokratikong Kabataan. The KATIPUNAN issued a statement printed in the March 8, 1971 edition of the Manila Times under the title "RP women join liberation front". These initial organizing efforts by women were however, nipped in the bud when then president Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972 and many of the members were forced to go underground.

Center for Women's Resources and
GABRIELA for interviews with pre-Martial law women activists)