Recognizing the necessity of International Working Women’s Day: origins and action

Hugo Fajardo, Intersections Editor

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Hundreds of New Orleanians took to the streets from Congo Square through the French Quarter on March 16. Holding banners and megaphones, they shouted, “We demand!”

“I chose to march because the inequities that women face, especially working women, are omnipresent in New Orleans,” sophomore Jewell Prim said.

The United States, along with the United Kingdom and Australia, observes Women’s History Month annually during March. International Women’s Day, however, is observed by more than 100 countries and lands on March 6 in the U.S. Though Americans recognize the contributions of multiple women throughout U.S. history, there exists the possibility that most Americans have no idea how this important day began nor do they consider which women are included in the molded narrative of U.S. women’s history, and which are not.

A common origin story in the U.S. about International Women’s Day is one set in 1907 in New York City. Women laborers of textile factories marched to advocate for women’s suffrage and labor conditions that provide for equal opportunity in the workforce. This teaching has been uncovered by historians as a lie, as this march may have never actually happened.

Though the first U.S. National Woman’s Day was in 1909, International Women’s Day has a different origin story. The concept of a Women’s Day spread to Europe in 1911, with multiple rallies and more than one million participants. In 1917, Russian feminist Alexandra Kollontai pushed the post-revolution Russian government to recognize an official holiday dedicated to the struggles and hardships that women laborers face.

“To me, [International Working Women’s Day is] a day set aside to allow women to mobilize and participate in non-electoral politics for their rights and their need in attempt to have their demands reached and fulfilled to the fullest extent,” sophomore Emma Maxwell said.

Maxwell participated in the march alongside Prim.

In 1921, the Conference of Communist Women declared March 8 as International Working Women’s Day. The holiday soon became adopted by socialist countries such as Spain and China. Noting the original name with the words “working women’s” is crucial.

The United Nations recognized the holiday in 1975 as International Women’s Day, which is when the holiday became popularized around the entire globe. The wiping of “working women’s” from the new name demonstrated a motive to erase the holiday’s socialist origins during the Cold War-era when socialism was most stigmatized. Consequently, the name change excluded the true meaning of why the holiday began: to recognize the hardships faced by women workers and initiate discussions on how to provide needed resolutions to these struggles.

In New Orleans, the poverty rate is 27 percent, almost twice as much as the national poverty rate of 15 percent.

“I think class is often missed out when we have conversation about women, and I feel like on this campus, a lot of students have a lot of privilege where they can not focus on working women,” Prim said.

This is what motivated the New Orleans People’s Assembly and the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Alliance to collaborate and organize a march for International Working Women’s Day, raising awareness for New Orleans women and hospitality workers’ needs. Among their list of demands for better working conditions are calls for paid maternity leave, health coverage for all hospitality workers and an increase in funding towards early childhood education.

The organizations also noted the importance of including transgender women, non-binary people and gender non-conforming folks in their movement, as they face this oppression in addition to their queer identity.

For Tulane students, action to support the efforts of working women in New Orleans is possible.

“[Tulane students] can definitely be organizing off campus or working in the ways of using our privileges in order to help those working women on campus, including Sodexo workers,” Prim said. “Tulane does not pay them the right amount of money for the amount of labor that they put them in … so I think the first step is acknowledging that.”