In 1910, the socialist group Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, adopted Women's Day as an international protest event to push for universal suffrage for women. In the years that followed, women (and men) took to the streets to demand equality for women, including the right to vote and hold office. One early victory: In 1917, Russian women struck for “bread and peace.” Days later, the czar abdicated and women were granted suffrage.
In 1975, women struck in Iceland. (They had won the right to vote in 1915 but, 60 years later, just nine women had ever held a seat in the country's Parliament.) That day, 90 percent of the country's women abstained from housework, child care and office drudgery. Instead, they took to the streets. Schools and nurseries closed, as did banks, factories and several shops.
“It completely paralyzed the country,” Vigdix Finnbogadottir, who skipped work to attend the rally, told the BBC. It “opened the eyes of many men.” Men were forced to take their children to work and to prepare their meals (sausage, easy to cook, sold out at most stores). It was so stressful that many men dubbed the day the “ ‘Long Friday.’ ”
Just five years later, Finnbogadottir became the world's first democratically elected female president. Today, Iceland has one of the narrowest pay gaps in the world.
One of the most recent women's strikes was organized last year. In October, Polish women struck to protest a bill that would completely ban abortion in the country. More than 100,000 women in 60 cities took to the streets, and some faced punishment.
“Several teachers from a school in Rybnik faced a disciplinary commission after a male colleague of theirs filed a complaint about them dressing in black at school that day,” one activist told New York magazine. The teachers attended the protest anyway. Two days later, the bill was voted down 352 to 58.
It's evidence that Women's Day is more than just an empty gesture. Often, these efforts get results.