Once more we are celebrating International Women's Day. The theme for this year is, "Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for all".
The Left which has over the years pushed for progressive change, influenced the celebration of this day. It was the activities of labour movements at the beginning of the twentienth Century in North America and Europe which set the ball rolling.
The Socialist Party of America set aside this day in honour of the 1908 garment workers' strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions. As a result, the first National Women's Day was observed in the United States on February 28th, 1909.
In 1910, though no date was set, the Socialist International, which the Botswana National Front (BNF) is a member of, at its meeting in Copenhagen, established a Women's Day to honour the movement for women's rights and to build support for achieving human rights for women.
It was Clara Zetkin, head of the women's desk at the German Social Democratic Party who tabled the idea of an International Women's Day, to be celebrated by every country every year, for women to press their demands. The meeting was attended by over 100 women from 17 countries. Among them were the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament.
This initiative led to the first celebration of International Women's Day on March 19th in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark. There were massive rallies which were attended by more than one million people. At these rallies, pressure was mounted for the right of women to the following; hold public office, work, vocational training and an end to discrimination on the job.
This day was also used to protest against the First World War. Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February. In other parts of Europe on or around March 8th of 1914, protest rallies were held against the war or to express solidarity with other activists.
In 1917, against the backdrop of the war, there was a protest and strike by women in Russia again for 'Bread and Peace' on the last Sunday in February. This was March 8th according to the Gregorian calendar. It led to the Czar abdicating four days later and the provisional government granting women the right to vote.
International Women's Day has since then taken a new global dimension. The fight for women's rights has since been strengthened by four global United Nations women's conferences.
This has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women's rights and participation in the political and economic arenas. International Women's Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the struggle.
The United Nations and Gender Equality Charter of the United Nations signed in 1945 was the first international agreement to affirm the principle of equality between women and men. In 1975 during International Women's Year, the United Nations began celebrating International Women's Day on March 8th.
Like other progressive forces throghout the world, the Botswana National Front has over the years pushed for policies that bestow human rights on women. Women are now able to get full pay, while on maternity leave in Botswana because of the motions we tabled in parliament.
We do admit that qoutas have their limitations, but they can assist to affirm women if used together with other means.We are the first to put aside 30% of our positions in the party for women. To us women's rights are a human rights issue and we take them seriously.
We also hold the view that there is need to change our electoral system. The current first past the post system works against women in their efforts to be part of the political leadership.
As long as the electoral system remains unchanged, women will continue to be under-represented in these law making bodies.We should not pretend as if our society has stopped being parternalistic and hostile to women.
Introduction of a mixed electoral system, as suggested by our party, will help address this problem.
It is not correct to think that women have gained true equality. The reality is that women are not equal to their male counterparts. They are still under-represented in senior positions, government, big business and other areas. There is still a lot to be done to ensure that they access education and health like men. Violence against women is still prevalent and is getting worse.
To us this is not just a day for delivering speeches. We should use this day to gauge our progress in the fight for women's rights and ensure that we remove all the obstacles in the fight for equality of both sexes. If we fail then this day will lose meaning and will come to pass yearly just like any other day. We will have failed to shape a better future for the next generation.
BNF Information and Publicity Secretary