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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

Updated: Apr 4

The legacy of the International Women’s Day is alive in Slovakia.



If you are in Slovakia in March 8th, you will see men carrying bouquets of flowers everywhere – in town and cities, and in countryside. That is because Women’s Day is taken very seriously here.

 

Let’s take a short trip into history to discover how the holiday rooted itself in the society.






International Women’s Day started its existence during the Awakening Movement at the beginning of the 18th century when women for the first time started to speak about, and demand the people’s right to vote.

 

It was a bold ask, and the hot topic was discussed by the intelligentsia  over cigarettes in cafés all over Europe. These were mostly men. Gaining that right to vote for women was not high on their agenda, and so women would have to form their own movement and organizations to be heard.

 

A handful of women was either inspired or frustrated enough to make the first bold statements on the role of women in a changing world.

 

In 1791, a French playwright and political activist Olympe de Gouges published the Declaration of Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen. In Britain, things were simmering too. But, did you know that the first place in the world to ward women’s suffrage was New Jersey, United States in 1776?





Although this is when it started, the movement for women’s suffrage strengthened and solidified in the 19th century during the industrial boom in Europe and in the United States.

 

In Slovakia, women too increasingly demanded that they were entitled to receive the same respect, dignity and practice the same rights as men. Slovakia was a part of the Kingdom of Hungary, and women did not have it easy here – certainly not those who aspired to live beyond the confines of their household.

 

As far as the kingdom was concerned, a woman role was that of mother and wife. She was expected to be economically dependent on a man, be it her father and later her husband.

 

Ambitions beyond that were not only unwelcome, but perceived as dangerous.




A new law made it mandatory for girls to attend schools for 6 years. It also made it possible for girls to continue their education at secondary schools. There were only two such institutions available to females, both in Budapest, and their purpose was not just to educate, but also to magyarize young women.


On the territory of Slovakia, the mavericks of female education and actuation put their pens to work. This is when Elena Marothy Soltesova, Terezia Vansova and Hana Gregorova started to write essays, articles and books to educate Slovak women, and to campaign also the (almost exclusively male) intelligentsia about the fact that women could and wanted to do more then society allowed them to do.



Another formidable lady used the vehicle of theater to plant modern ideas in the heads of women. This was indeed Anna Jurkovicova, the first Slovak actress.

The first women’s association Zivena was founded in 1869 to educate women, publish books, newspapers and magazines that catered to the ladies.




On the international scene, women were gaining the right to vote throughout the 19th century but it did not end there. The movement was not about suffrage only, but also about a fairer world for women.

On March 8 1908, American seamstresses took to the streets of New York demanding better working conditions and fair wages. A year later, the last Sunday in February was proclaimed National Women’s Day which went on to inspire The International Women’s Conference that proposed to hold a special ‘Women’s Day’ annually.

In 1911, Austria-Hungary where Slovakia belonged already celebrated the day. Or those aware of its existence did.

It was a step in the right direction, but Slovak women would have to wait until 1920.




As per the International Women’s Day, the holiday and its meaning was further shaped by social developments in Russia. On March 8, 1917, with WW I ranging around them, women who worked in the textile factories in St Petersburg began a demonstration for ‘bread and peace’. This day was declared an official holiday in the USSR the same year.



In Slovakia, International Women’s Day started to be celebrated on March 8th in 1921, however the iconic Women’s Day festivities only kicked off after WW II and the communist coup in Czechoslovakia.

 

The holiday was appropriated by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia as a part of the equality campaign that celebrated women as builders of the socialist homeland, and equals of men. The Party was vested in incorporating women to the labor market, as every pair of hands was needed to turn the grand vision of communism to reality.




The carnation became the symbol of the day. The flower that was readily available in the unpredictable planned economy, it was given by men to women, but also by employers to their female comrades and colleagues. Pupils recited poems in honor of women in schools, parties were held at workplaces and lofty speeches were given by the Party representatives.

International Women’s Day remained a predominantly communist holiday until it was adopted by the United Nations in 1975. Ever since, March 8th brings forth a day when the entire globe celebrates women.

In Slovakia, it is still a very much a special day when flowers and chocolates exchange hands as we celebrate women – mothers, daughters, granddaughters, wives, and sisters.

How about gifting a flower to the ladies that are dear to your heart today?




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