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Every year, the 8th Day of the month of March is celebrated as International Women’s Day; but what is significance of this day? In order to know more about the evolution of this day, let’s take a trip down the alleyway of history!

United States of America: A Movement is Born[1]

In 1848, United States of America, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, indignant over women being barred from speaking at an anti-slavery convention, gathered over a few hundred people at their nation’s first women’s rights convention in New York. Together they demanded civil, social, political and religious rights for women in a Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.

In the year 1909, the Socialist Party of America observed for the first time the “National Women’s Day” on 28th February, in order to honour of the garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions.

The flame spreads to Europe

Inspired by the American Socialists, in 1910, German delegates Clara Zetkin, Käte Duncker and Paula Thiede, proposed the observance of an annual “Women’s Day” with the idea to promote equal rights including “Right To Vote”  for women.  The Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark established a Women’s Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women’s rights and to build support for achieving universal suffrage (voting rights) for women.[2]

In the year 1911, International Women’s Day was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. Women demanded that they be given the right to vote and to hold public office. They also protested against gender discrimination in employment.

International Women’s Day also became a mechanism for protesting World War I. Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day in February 1913.

In 1914, International Women’s Day was held on 8th March in Germany[3] dedicated to women’s right to vote, which German women did not win until 1918.

On March 8th, 1917, in Petrograd, the capital of the Russian Empire, women textile workers began a demonstration, covering the whole city. Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day for “Bread and Peace”[4] demanding the end of World War I, ending of Russian food shortages, and the end of Czarism (Russian Emperorship). Four days later, the Czar abdicated and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.

The 70s Era and United Nations

In the 1970s, Women’s Day re-emerged as a day of activism with several women’s groups calling for equal pay, equal economic opportunity, equal legal rights, reproductive rights, subsidized child care, and the prevention of violence against women. After the Second World War, 8th March as Women’s Day started to be celebrated in a number of countries.

In 1975, during the International Women’s Year, the United Nations began celebrating 8th March as International Women’s Day. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.[5]

International Women’s Day- India’s Tryst

Everywhere in Europe while the women were coming out on the streets demanding their rights, meanwhile in contemporary India, in the year 1917, Margaret Cousins founded the Women’s Indian Association in Adyar, Madras, to create a vehicle for women to influence government policy and focus on equal rights, educational opportunity, social reform, and women’s suffrage.[6]

The British Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act 1918, enfranchising women over the age of 30, who were entitled to be, or who were married to someone entitled to be, a local government elector. Madras was the first province to grant women the “Right to Vote” in 1921.[7]

In 1927, the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) was formed to advocate for women’s education and was helpful in the passage of the Hindu Code of Bills between 1952 and 1960.

In 1950, the Constitution of India granted voting rights to all women and men. The Constitution of India guaranteed to all Indian women equality; equal opportunity; equal pay for equal work. The Constitution also renounced practices derogatory to the dignity of women; and also allowed for provisions to be made by the State for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.

The Government of India declared 2001 as the Year of Women’s Empowerment[8]

Women’s organisations in India first began to emerge in the early 1800s, and later in the 1970s after a period of limited activity from the 1950s to 1970s. India has one of the highest numbers of female politicians in the world. Women have held high offices in India including that of the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Leader of the Opposition

The Indian Armed Forces began recruiting women to non-medical positions in 1992[9]. The Border Security Force (BSF) began recruiting female officers in 2013. On 24th October 2015, the Indian government announced that women could serve as fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force (IAF)[10].

†Editorial Assistant, EBC Publishing Pvt. Ltd. 

[1] https://www.un.org/en/observances/womens-day/background

[2] https://womenwatch.unwomen.org/international-womens-day-history

[3] https://www.dw.com/en/berlin-marks-first-official-womens-day-holiday/a-47811363

[4] The Guardian, Women -protest sparked Russian revolution

[5] https://www.un.org/en/observances/womens-day/background

[6] The Hindu, Emancipation of Women

[7] Political Participation of Women in India

[8] https://pib.gov.in/newsite/erelcontent.aspx?relid=1039

[9] Reuters, Indian Armed Forces to recruit women for all combat roles

[10] Digital Journal, India paves way for women in army combat

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“Let’s make sure women and girls can shape the policies, services and infrastructure that impact all our lives. And let’s support women and girls who are breaking down barriers to create a better world for everyone.”

— UN Secretary-General, António Guterres

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

-Maya Angelou

Over the years Indian Law together with legal conscience and jurisprudence has developed in a way to accommodate women’s rights, following is the list of important laws and statutes that every person interested in furthering the cause of protecting women and their development should be enlightened about:

Women-Specific Legislations:

Women-Related Legislations:

This day is not just about celebrating the warriors fighting every day, in fact, it is a day to recognise the powers entailing for our protection around us and to be aware of the same with the motive of strengthening the slightly weakened bones.

Eminent women in the legal industry have been successful in breaking the glass ceilings and pushing forward through the path ‘not-so-easy’ by being an inspiration for several.

“Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world”

-Hilary Clinton

Women in the legal fraternity have in their own remarkable ways been able to meaningfully contribute to the society on various issues such as the most recent one being Section 377 IPC; Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, (2018) 10 SCC 1 then Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Section 66-A IT Act, 2000, Women Entry-Sabarimala, etc. As a part of this esteemed field, Women have in their own ways tried to make a difference, to put in a nutshell, the words of Nelson Mandela suits the best, i.e.,

“As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow. As long as the nation refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure.”

Justice R. Banumathi | In a span of 70 years, she is the 6th Woman Judge [Breaking the stereotypes]

Nirbhaya Verdict: She was the only woman Judge on the bench which decided against the question of review of the decision in the most barbaric gangrape and murder case of the 21st century. Mukesh v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2018) 8 SCC 149.

Justice Indu Malhotra | Only female lawyer to be appointed directly to the Supreme Court of India

Being part of the recent landmark judgments i.e. Sabarimala and Section 377 IPC she stated that

“History owes an apology to the members of the LGBTQIA community.”

With a dissenting opinion in the Sabarimala decision, Justice Indu Malhotra stated that,

What is essential practice in a religion is for the religion to decide, it is a matter of personal faith. India is a land of diverse faiths. Constitutional morality in a pluralistic society gives freedom to practice even irrational customs. Religious practices cannot be solely tested on the bedrock of equality.”

Justice Indira Banerjee | 8th Woman Judge of the Supreme Court of India

Indira Banerjee, J., with her strong personality and her entry as the 8th woman judge in the Supreme Court of India surely marked a page in the history of “fearsome warriors”.

An all women’s Judge Bench comprising of R. Banumathi and Indira Banerjee, JJ., had set aside a Delhi High Court Judgment by stating that :

“Even in cases where there is some material to show that the victim was habituated to sexual intercourse, no inference like the victim being a woman of ‘loose character’ is permissible to be drawn from that circumstance alone.”

Senior Advocate Indira Jaising | Story of “Fearless”

She has fought some of the most high-profile legal cases of the last half-century, such as the case for compensation for the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy.

Senior Advocate Indira Jaising is not just limited to Bhopal Gas tragedy as she has innumerable feathers attached to her cap which gives “courage” a whole new definition.

Menaka Guruswamy | Unbeatable stride

Phenomenal Arguments in the case which was beyond “Gender, Race, Caste and Sex”

“These young people need to be unafraid to love and be loved, and they should be protected by this Court.”

“How strongly must you love knowing you are unconvicted felons under Section 377 IPC?”

Karuna Nandy | Altruism is her source of happiness 

Fought for survivors of Bhopal Gas tragedy

One of her significant achievements also involved the famous —Shreya Singhal v. Union of India(2015) 5 SCC 1; Section 66 A of IT Act, 2000 was declared unconstitutional. She also played a significant role in drafting the Womanifesto and framing of the anti-rape bill after the Nirbhaya Delhi gang rape.

According to the Huffington Post,  Karuna Nandy’s decision on coming back to India, she said,

“I felt that here is where I could make the biggest contribution—not just in human rights work, but also as a general lawyer. I felt this is where the need was. I have a visceral understanding of these various layers [here], in terms of language, in terms of nuance, and information…It is also a court of ideas, as much as it is a court of facts. It has been quite a leader when it comes to economic and social rights.”

The only stereotype that needs to be broken on this Women’s Day is that we as women are way beyond the word “feminism”. As feminism for us is not us above any other gender, it is “us” walking that path with “everyone” and for them.

† Legal Editor, EBC Publishing Pvt. Ltd.