International Women’s Day: A Testament to the Labour of Women of Colour

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March 8th is celebrated annually as International Women’s Day, a day for honouring the achievements of women’s rights movements across the globe. It also serves as a reminder of how much farther we have yet to go in achieving gender and racial equality.

The holiday has its roots in the Socialist Party of America, which declared a National Women’s Day in 1909, one year after 15,000 working class women marched through the streets of New York calling for better pay, shorter working hours, and the right to vote.

International Women’s Day was first celebrated globally in 1911 after European feminists met in Copenhagen at the International Conference for Working Women and established the holiday at the suggestion of communist activist and women’s rights advocate Clara Zetkin. The official day was not chosen until 1917, when a wartime strike by Russian women began on the 8th of March.

Since its advent, the holiday has largely been co-opted by mainstream feminist movements, which have historically excluded women of colour. These movements, specifically in Europe and America, too often ignore the indispensable contributions of women of colour, especially formerly enslaved women, to the feminist effort.

Black women across America and Europe faced, and still continue to face, heavy discrimination within white feminist circles. These mainstream feminist movements, entrenched in their inherent anti-Blackness, have unfortunately played a major role in benefitting from and upholding systems of white supremacy and colonialism while unequivocally failing to show up for women of colour.

Intersectionality, the concept that several aspects of a person’s identity, ie. race and gender, can simultaneously contribute to their oppression and discrimination, was only coined in 1989. Black women specifically are forced to bear the burden of their intersectional identities; they suffer from even larger wage gaps than white women, higher rates of domestic violence, police brutality, and countless other injustices. Queer women of colour, especially transgender women, experience these dangers to an even greater extent.

This has not, however, hindered women of colour from fighting in solidarity with underprivileged groups across social, racial, and class lines, often leading liberation efforts from the front. In fact, Black women are pioneering working class, anti-racist, and feminist revolutionary movements across the world such as the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Although the history of Black women and women of colour has generally been written out of the feminist movement, they have done invaluable, trailblazing work that has led to many of the achievements of feminism today. Women of colour deserve to be celebrated on International Women’s Day and everyday, and Operation Black Vote is wholeheartedly dedicated to uplifting them through civic and political engagement.

There are several resources available to support women of colour in their mental health and wellbeing, entrepreneurship, and liberation struggles.

By Maggie Kormann

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