INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY: AN ALMOST FORGOTTEN LEGACY
By Stephen Wilson
MOSCOW -- " I was suddenly waved down by a Traffic policeman and thought : 'O God they are going to fine me for something . But when I pulled down the window the traffic policeman offered me some flowers congratulating me as it was International Women's Day. I was relieved ! " stated Oksana Chebotareva, a 43 year old Russian English teacher.
She was not the only person surprised on the 8th of March. In Berlin and Paris some Russian men decided to go up to unknown women in the streets offering free flowers. At first they refused believing they were salesmen but after learning it was a free gift , agreed to take them . Nobody declined the gifts!
International Women's Day evokes a wide range of different responses from women. While most Russian women are happy to be receive compliments, praise and presents , not all of them whole heartedly feel elated or enthusiastic.
In deed , quite a few don't celebrate it at all . They are too busily absorbed in attempting to make a living or they have become cynical about what they see as the insincerity of some men. " I don't celebrate this day . I just don't feel like
another celebration ", confessed my wife . " I don't understand why we need this celebration in the first place ", claims the teacher Oksana. Feminists declare that the celebration makes an utter mockery of the continued opppression of women in Russia and all around the World. They would like to see real radical respect of women and not cheap praise, compliments or flowers that symbolically die the next day. If you truly respect women, stop abusing , beating and murdering them!
Not everyone is so indifferent or downbeat about this celebration. One woman writes : " The 8th of March International Women's day is an amazingly beautiful holiday filled with tenderness. All the ladies receive presents, flowers and poetry text messages." Someone , somewhere, is trying to make another person happy !
It is not true to state that while men hate this day, women adore it. I came across one of my students who told me that since he was the only man in his department , he had to purchase 3 boxes of cakes for the female staff. He did not resent this but felt pleasure at this.
However, awareness of the deeper political roots of this celebration has almost been forgotten. Even middle- aged people who grew up in the Soviet era vaguely recall the political legacy of the celebration. It has become depoliticised. Now most Russians tend to see the day as something between Saint Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. When I asked people if they could recall the political dimension I received vague answers such as 'It is connected with a strike ! ", " it was the idea of the Suffragetes " and the name Klara Zetkin surfaces . In fact the idea was largely the brainchild of Klara Zetkin, who at a conference in 1908, proposed that a special celebration to commemorate
the grandmothers of some socialists who had gone on strike in 1857 for better conditions in New York , should not be forgotten ! In a sense, it was a kind of 'Day of the Dead' to remind women all over the world that the struggle to better
women should continue.Those granddaughters were demanding an end to child labour, an improvement of working conditions and the right to vote.
As the historian Orlando Figes has pointed out, the Russian Revolution was sparked off by women who had taken to the streets to celebrate this very day.
According to Antonella Salomoni : 'The Days of February (Feburary 23-27) signaled the final crisis of the Czarist regime. Remarkable for the unexpected rapidity with which the workers mobilised , the uprising began on February 23,
International Women's Day .(March 8 by our Calender).' (Lenin and the Russian Revolution, Antonella Salamoni, 2004, Interlink, Northampton, U.S.A, )
This happens to be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Many people are assessing just how much progress has been made, if any , in the emancipation of women. Given the past few months , the situation of Russian women has regressed remarkably . The Russian Duma even passed a law which has decriminalised the beating of women and children. A man who thrashes a woman will only face imprisonment if he persists in doing this for over a year. Before this deadline, he will pay a fine . By this time the woman could be long dead. It is as if a green light has been given to abuse women.
According to the Russian state's own figures , the pay of women is 72.3 % of men , and has increased from 67.9% in 2011. However, the pay of women managers fell from a percentage of 37.3% in 2006 to 32.7% in 2015. In general, women earn less than 30% of men. Men also occupy 67% of
On the same day, as if readily acknowledging the dire situation of woman, the Prime Minister Medvedev , announced a drawn up document titled:
'A strategy to improve the position of Women ' in Russia, where measures will be taken to tackle violence against women as well as improving their status and role in all areas of life'. The goal is to improve the position of women in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres of life by 2022.
The document does not even demand the repeal of very lethal legislation which has recently been passed . Nevertheless, depoliticised or not, it will be difficult to exorcise the ghost haunting the Russian state on International Women's Day. Just 100 years ago, the celebration of this day sparked off a Russian revolution. Never take women for granted!