March is not only a women’s holiday, but a holiday for all workers
Author: Zilka Spahić Šiljak

Working women are not the only ones who suffer because of difficult working conditions and low wages. Working men aren’t off any better.” (Clara Zetkin)

When the 8th of March is celebrated as International Women’s Day, in public discourse we have at least three types of actions and reactions. The first and most prevalent way of celebrating the 8th of March is buying flowers and gifts for women without any critical attitude towards the position of women in the family and society. Another type is the activism of various women who, through street marches, performances, and education, try to raise awareness about why the 8th of March is celebrated and why women’s rights are still threatened today, and why workers around the world are impoverished and underpaid. The third reaction is the opposition to the celebration of the 8th of March, and it can mostly be heard in the circles of Muslim women and men who repeatedly state the learned lessons that Islam guaranteed women equal rights 14 centuries ago, and therefore Muslim women do not need to celebrate this date. The majority do not even know what the 8th of March represents, but they know that it is the legacy of socialism and therefore cannot be positive. The majority also ignores the fact that a large number of Muslim women live in societies that call themselves Islamic, violate all the principles of Islam, and trample on the dignity of women by prohibiting them from being educated, being able to work and actualize their intellectual and other capacities.

What is the 8th of March?

On this day, the achievements in the field of civil, political, and economic rights of women are celebrated, for which they fought in America and Western Europe and painstakingly won the right to vote, the right to education, work, and equality in marriage and society. This holiday was celebrated first in America in 1908, and then at the International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen in 1910, Clara Zetkin, a German Marxist theoretician and activist, proposed that the 8th of March should be the international day of all women who demand their rights and freedoms. The representatives of 17 countries at that conference unanimously adopted the proposal and already in 1911, this day began to be celebrated in Germany, Denmark, Austria, and Switzerland. After that in 1913 in Russia, and in 1917 thousands of women protested on the streets of St. Petersburg because of the famine that was ravaging the empire. By the end of World War II, women in most Western European countries gained the right to vote, including women in Yugoslavia in 1946. 

Only in 1975, the United Nations adopted this date as International Women’s Day, explaining that ensuring peace and prosperity and enjoying human rights and freedoms requires the active participation of women in all processes, as well as the recognition of their contribution to global peace and security. Women and men at the UN have recognized the importance of an inclusive approach and the inclusion of women in all processes of civil and political life, and on this day they strive to raise awareness of the extent to which the rights of women, especially women workers who do the most difficult and least paid jobs, are threatened and how much women suffer economic violence.

International Women’s Day is the result of women’s struggle for equality and a just society. The special focus of socialist women was on the rights of workers who worked in inhumane conditions for 14 or more hours with miserable wages. As laundresses, midwives, cleaners, cooks, and factory workers, women worked in the most difficult conditions and were paid less than men for such jobs.

After the French Revolution in 1798, women were relegated to the margins of society. They could not gather politically, nor did they have the right to have property, nor to divorce and to get custody of their children. Education was exclusive for the privileged few, so most women worked on farms and in factories where they were exploited by the new industrial capitalist elite. This is why the voices of women who are aware will move workers to fight for their rights.

The socialist Flora Tristan in her work The Workers’ Union (1844) calls the workers to a class struggle in order to get the right to education, an eight-hour workday, and the possibility of political representation. Joining a trade union would help them realize their rights and also take care of the elderly and sick, which shows the ethics of caring for the most vulnerable and vulnerable categories of society. Flora draws attention to the fact that the capitalists mercilessly exploit the workers to such an extent that when they saw that women were doing jobs faster in factories, they fired men and hired women who they then paid less. She, therefore, warns that capitalists will employ children instead of women and pay them even less, thus further degrading and impoverishing the working class.

At the same time, patriarchy in the family reduces women to servants whose role and purpose is to satisfy the needs of men. Torn between the patriarchy in the home and the capitalist in the factory, women were little more than objects whose fate was decided by others. That is why more educated women call for association and the fight against injustice and economic exploitation.

Clara Zetkin continued to develop the ideas of class struggle combined with gender equality with another socialist, Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish-German Marxist theorist. Through their activism, they tried to explain that the fight for women’s equality must be waged alongside the fight for workers’ rights. Just as men exploit the resources of women in the household, capitalists exploit workers in factories, so it is important to connect these two struggles.

The 8th of March is not only a women’s holiday but a holiday for all workers who demand equal labor rights, equal wages for the same jobs, and a fairer society, which cannot be achieved if women and men are not equal. Therefore, reducing the 8th of March to a level of just buying flowers is a distortion of the purpose and importance of this date. Flowers are a nice sign of attention, but that sign of attention must not be an excuse to obscure the situation in which women are still economically exploited in factories, but also in households where they perform a large part of unpaid work that is not even socially valued.

Values of the 8th of March

As a response to the objections of some Muslim women and men that they have their own values within the Islamic tradition and that there is no need to mark the dates of other cultures and civilizations, especially those in the West that gave women the freedom to decide about themselves and their bodies, it is important to look back at the values carried by this the date. What are the key social values of the 8th of March for all the women of the world and today are universal values that are important to stand for, namely: dignity, justice, equality, and solidarity. Most people will say that it is important for them to preserve their dignity and they expect others to respect them, be fair, and be in solidarity with them. However, they often forget to respect others and be fair, and these are usually women because they do not perceive them as equal partners and participants in the society in which they live.

Dignity means that every person is valuable as a human being, that they should have fundamental rights and freedoms and be respected regardless of identity differences. It is especially emphasized in international human rights documents that all people are born free and deserve respect. Therefore, dignity is not something that is acquired, but something that is earned by birth. In monotheistic religions, the dignity of a person is at the top of the scale of values, because it is considered that God created every living being and that therefore humans deserve respect as a divine creation. People, however, take the prerogatives to destroy the dignity of another person in the name of God, to commit injustice, and exclude others by implementing God’s laws, exploiting them, and denying them the freedom to act as free-thinking beings. Women are often in the position of others, they are denied their rights in the name of God, and in the name of protection, and they are denied freedom of movement and action.

Justice is also an important principle present in the struggle for the rights of women and workers, and in the Islamic tradition, justice is cited as the crowning principle that must be adhered to, even if it is to the detriment of those closest to you or to your own detriment. The question that arises is whether it is possible to have social justice without gender justice, that is, whether we can talk about fairness if we are unfair to women, workers, and other marginalized groups. Are there special standards of justice for men and women, for workers, for the rich and the poor? Looking at what is happening today in many societies that adorn themselves with the halo of religiously based societies, it is clear that there is no justice for women in them, that women’s voices are silenced, and that if they dare to speak out, they are sanctioned and imprisoned, and often killed.

Women who fought for civil and political rights demanded to be respected as human beings, to have the right to be educated, to work, to receive a salary for their work, and to have the freedom to decide for themselves, their family, and to participate in community affairs. At the time when the suffragettes demanded the right to vote, it was considered against the dignity of women, because it was believed that it was against the nature and mission of a woman to whom God intended, which is to be a wife and mother and to deal with the work of raising her children. When the industrial revolution started and when more labor was needed, no one remembered that it was unfair and that it was against the dignity of a woman to work 16 hours a day in factories and to be paid less than a man for that.

Economic exploitation of women today

Although the emancipation of women enabled the right to education, work, and political engagement, which is extremely important, a large number of women are still in a very difficult economic situation. Women own only 1 percent of the world’s wealth. They still inherit property from parents and family unequally compared to men. Only 5 percent of them head the world’s largest companies, and they still earn 19 percent less than men for the same jobs.

Today, when workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina and other countries work for minimum wages, when their length of work is not connected and they cannot receive retirement benefits, when they lose their jobs because someone in privatization stole and ransacked the factories where they worked, we can hardly say that there is justice. If we look at the workers in markets who work at the cash registers, we see that workers in other service industries are economically on the verge of poverty. Many have no choice but to work for the minimum wage, work overtime for which they are usually unpaid, endure mobbing, and various forms of gender-based violence. What women face are not only different forms of gender-based violence but also femicide, the numbers of which we see daily in black chronicles. They have to hide the fact that they are pregnant, and that they intend to get married and have children, because they will not be hired, and they are often fired from their jobs if they exercise their legal right to full parental leave. Not all women in BiH have maternity benefits, nor are these benefits equal in all cantons.

With all these pressures, women are expected to give birth to children, and in return, they do not have adequate support from the state or from their husbands, who often act as guests in the house, and not as partners who raise a family together. Women are additionally given moral advice and are given advice on how to be happy and satisfied in a patriarchal marriage and a society that does not value and pay them the same as men. Some will even rudely tell women that they should not even work, but stay at home and raise their children, and no one asks these women if they even have the possibility to sit at home and not work, and if they suffer violence from someone in that house who is often found in the first in the rows of mosques and in positions of power in society. When they talk about all this, they are stigmatized, and the perpetrators continue to be respected members of the congregation, politicians, and businessmen.

Today, in many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, terrible exploitation of women and children is taking place. Children work in the factories of large corporations for one dollar because their hands are suitable for the work of assembling small parts on different types of devices. Women also do the most difficult jobs and are often forced into prostitution. When women from Bangladesh and other poorer Asian countries come to work in the rich countries of the Middle East, their documents are often confiscated and they are asked for sexual favors in addition to domestic work. They cannot escape because they have no documents, and they know that their poor families depend on every dime they send them.

Women are caught in a trap because on the one hand, there is corporate capitalism that realizes surplus value by exploiting the most vulnerable, namely women and children, and on the other hand, patriarchy in which a large number of women are objectified and reduced to commodities managed by men and families.

On top of all that, listening to praises about how Islam solved the issue of women or moralizing about what a real woman should be – to sit at home and raise children and not celebrate the 8th of March, is at least dishonest. Although Islam gave instructions and ethical norms of justice, mercy, and concern for others, Muslims forgot about them. Instead of gender justice, they exclude women, instead of economic well-being, ethics, care, they exploit workers like any other capitalist, and then donate part of the money to wash their conscience and earn sevap. However, without kebabs, which every worker deserves, there is no sevap, no matter how many donations they give to mosques and hajrs because the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) warned employers to pay wages to workers before the sweat dries on their bodies. For some, however, the body dries up and life dies down, and they don’t get wages and salaries, and then the problem is the 8th of March, not greedy capitalists who only care about profit and/or hypocritical believers who care about satisfying forms of belief, and if someone suffocates in poverty and violence that does not touch them.

Resistance to the 8th of March comes from those structures of society that cannot accept the deconstruction of gender stereotypes on the basis of which women’s full humanity is denied. In order for women to be people in the full sense of the word, it is important to deconstruct patriarchal androcentric power structures and act emancipatory the benefit of women and men, workers.

Happy 8th of March, the day of the fight for women’s and workers’ rights!