Back in the days of Communism, the 8th of March was a very important date in Poland - International Women’s Day. The holiday itself organized in ancient Rome were people celebrated Matronalia –a tribute to fertility and maternity – during the first week of March. The 8th of March8th first featured in our modern calendar as Women’s Day in 1911 to commemorate 15,000 female workers from the textile factory in New York, who had gone on strike for better work conditions and voting rights three years before. The factory’s owner, seeking to avoid a scandal, imprisoned them in the factory where a fire later broke out, killing 129 of them tragically.
Traditionally, Women’s Day celebrations were designed to encourage social support for the voting rights of women and their struggle to be fully empowered members of society.
In Russia in 1917, women organized a strike called “bread and peace” which lasted three days at the end of which the Tsar abdicated and a new government awarded women voting rights. Later Lenin officially designed 8th of March as Women’s Day and from 1965 onward it became a national holiday in the Soviet Union.
Women’s Day was also important here in Poland. The Polish Communist governments used it to show and promote appreciation for the role of women in the country’s post-war reconstruction.
Polish women used to receive red carnations at home and at work as well as gifts of rationed goods such as tights, towels, soup, coffee, toilet paper or even tablecloths.
Generally, it was an enjoyable and cheerful time that provided an opportunity for men to have fun together.
With the fall of Communism, the nature of Women’s Day also changed. Instead of carnations and tights women started to receive tulips and roses, and this celebrations became much less ostentatious. Nowadays, Women’s Day is regarded by many as a relic of Communism though since some 2000 feminist organizations have organized annual demonstrations called “Manify” to protest against against gender-based discrimination in society and the workplace such as sexism, domestic violence and the prohibition of abortion.
In contemporary Poland many women still have genuine cause for complaint when it comes to earnings and promotion prospects at work, and a large number of them still feel they receive far too little support from the government in promoting true equality.
Women’s Day is a holiday that evokes mixed feelings among Polish women. Some are fond of it while others are not. However, despite differences in sentiment and attitude, 8th of March remains a good moment for people to pause and give thought to gender-based social problems, to appreciate the great distance already covered and understand the great distance that still lies ahead.