Today, 8 March is a day dedicated to women worldwide. International Women’s Day is about celebrating and promoting the equality and emancipation of women. While the world’s very first Women’s Day was celebrated in the United States in 1909, the popularity of the celebration soon spread all across the world. In 1910, other countries including Austria, Denmark and Switzerland joined in celebrating women, although at the time Women’s Day was marked not on 8 March, but in late February. At the time, on Women’s Day demonstrations were held all across Europe demanding voting rights for women. 8 March consolidated as the International Women’s Day’s date in 1913, when in New York women workers went on strike in 1857. The strike mobilised 40 thousand workers in New York who demanded equal pay and reduced working hours for female workers. Hungary also joined the rest of the world in celebrating women in 1913.
The importance of International Women’s Day became even greater and the tradition became more embedded into Hungarian culture during the Communist era, as the celebration was very important in the Soviet Union. In the name of communist ideology that claimed to side with the oppressed and disadvantaged, the Soviets actively used Women’s Day to attract the female population to the ideology. As Women’s Day at the time was connected to feminist marches and workers’ strikes, incorporating Women’s Day into the communist agenda was a straightforward choice for the Bolsheviks. As the Communist regime consolidated, however, the emphasis shifted from organising strikes to giving presents to women. Gradually, the day of activism and struggle for women’s right was transformed into a celebration of womanhood, with men giving flowers to women, and thus the original point of women’s day was lost. Despite the rhetoric of equality, by the late 1980s, the women living in the Eastern Bloc had much fewer opportunities and faced much more discrimination in the workplace and than their Western counterparts.
After Hungary democratised in 1989, International Women’s Day was completely disassociated from workers’ strikes. It is now marked only to remember and appreciate women, and their successes and contributions to the country and their communities. Albeit it is not the most prominent celebration in the country, husbands and sons, just as male co-workers and friends regularly give presents, mostly flowers to their female family members, friends and colleagues.
This year, Hungary’s Prime Minister surprised women cleaners at his office with flowers thanking them for keeping his office tidy every day.
In his greetings marking International Women’s Day, Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony reminded that women should receive the attention and appreciation they deserve not only today, but on all 365 days of the year.