International Women’s Day is celebrated all around the world on the 8th March. On this day in 1917, a group of women working in Petrograd’s textile factories began a demonstration, thus beginning the period of unrest which eventually lead to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II seven days later. The 8th March was then proclaimed a national holiday for the newly Soviet Russia; it was only in 1975 that the United Nations also adopted this celebration. Nowadays most Russians continue to celebrate this day – after all, it is a public holiday, meaning everyone has the day off work and lessons. Men give flowers, chocolates and other presents to the women they love to show their appreciation for the positive role they play in their lives. Unlike Mothers Day, gifts are given to any close female figures in their lives: friends, partners, sisters.
As a nod to this tradition, have these photos of some kick-ass gals in my life in St.Petersburg!
I begun the day by presenting Issy with a bunch of tulips and making her blush, like the suave public-holiday-remembering person I am. After getting a few pieces of work done, I headed off into the centre of town to meet up with a girl called Masha who I had met at a party a few weeks ago. We had bonded over our interest in feminism and had spent much time talking about how we discovered feminism. She mentioned that there was going to be a Women’s Rights march in the centre of St. Petersburg on International Women’s Day. However, the group organising the march hadn’t received the appropriate permission to host the event. Masha and I were both very interested in participating, however we both recognised that it might not be the safest thing for both of us to do; after all, at this point I don’t speak fluent Russian and I don’t even have my passport (my visa extension is being processed at the moment)!. Instead, we agreed to arrive a little early, walk up and down the street and see what would happen.
A little after the scheduled time we saw a group of about 200 people walking down a very crowded Nevsky Prospekt. Only a few were holding posters and they were moving quite quietly. After pausing on a bridge for a speaker to talk, the police arrived. The crowd fell silent and were ushered along swiftly. For me and Masha, we thought we had seen enough and quickly retreated to a nearby café. I managed to take a few quick photos. One woman on the right holds out a defiant hand in a seemingly symbolic gesture: giving back the typical Women’s Day flowers and asking for their rights in return. The woman on the left stood and held up this poster as the police moved people along. It says, ‘We don’t need: flowers, make-up or presents. We need: equal pay, reproductive freedom, defence from violence and freedom to our bodies and lives. The 8th March – a day of solidarity for women in the fight for gender inequality and not a day of spring, femininity and beauty’.
I later read a news article which explained that the march was stopped at several more points down its route, and by its end 10 people had been detained. It felt so strange to see a peaceful protest be broken up and challenged at so many points along its path. I haven’t been to many protests in my life (perhaps because Ipswich isn’t a pulsing centre of political consciousness) , but those which I have attended at Cambridge have always been popular, peaceful affairs which rarely (if ever) require the intervention of the police.
A number of women in disagree with the patronising tone of ‘Women’s Day’. They believe that one day a year is not enough to compensate for the injustices that continue to permeate Russian society and across the world. Masha agreed with this notion, but also conceded that it is nice to have a day of appreciation for people; there is both a Women’s Day and a Men’s Day in Russia, and despite the cisnormative associations of these days, there is still value to be found in taking a day to spend time with loved ones.
I admire the strong women who used this day to make a stand for what they believe in, especially in the knowledge that they would meet much resistance. I feel conflicted that I felt myself unable to participate in the act itself. I hope that these women, and women all around the world, get the attention and action required to relieve the persisting inequality between men and women.