By Rene Wadlow
It is only when women start to organize in large numbers that women become a political force, and begin to move towards the possibility of a truly democratic society in which every human being can be brave, responsible, thinking and diligent in the struggle to live at once freely and unselfishly.
8 March is the International Day of Women and thus a time to analyse the specific role of women in local, national and world society. International Women’s Day was first proposed by Clara Zetlin (1857-1933) at the Second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen in 1911. Later, she served as a socialist-communist member of the German Parliament during the Wiemar Republic which existed from 1920 to 1933 when Hitler came to power. Zetlin went into exile in the Soviet Union shortly after Hitler came to power. She died several moths late in 1933.
Zetkin had lived some years in Paris and was active in women’s movements there who were building on the 1889 International Congress for Feminine Works and Institutions held in Paris under the leadership of Ana de Walska. De Walska was part of the circle of young Russian and Polish intellectuals in Paris around Gerard Encausse (1865-1916), a spiritual writer who wrote under the pen name of Papus and edited a journal L’Initiation. Papus stressed the need for world peace and was particularly active on the human rights of Armenians.
This turn-of-the-century spiritual milieu was influenced by Indian and Chinese thought. Translations of fundamental Asian philosophical texts were increasingly known in an educated public. ‘Feminine’ and ‘masculine’ were related to the Chinese terms of Yin and Yang − not opposed but in a harmonic balance. Men and women alike have the Yin and Yang psychological characteristics. ‘Feminine’ characteristics or values include intuitive, nurturing, caring, sensitive and relational traits. ‘Masculine’ traits are rational, assertive and analytical.
As individual persons, men and women alike can achieve a state of wholeness, of balance between the Yin and Yang. However, in practice, ‘masculine’ refers to men and ‘feminine’ to women. Thus, some feminists identify the male psyche as the prime cause of the subordination of women around the world. Men are seen as having nearly a genetic coding that leads them to ‘seize’ power, to institutionalize that power through patriarchal societal structures and to buttress that power with masculine values and culture.
Thus Clara Zetkin saw the need to call attention in a forceful way to the role that women as women play in society and the many obstacles which men place in their way. She made her proposal in 1911 and today 8 March is widely observed.
Women, individually and in groups, have played a critical role in the struggle for justice and peace in all societies. However, when real negotiations start to pull a community out from a cycle of violence, women are often relegated to the sidelines. There is a need to organize so that women are at the negotiating table to present their ingenuity, patience and determination.
The emerging world society has been slow to address the problem of injustice to women, because it has lacked a consensus on sex-based inequality as an urgent issue of political justice. The outrages suffered every day by millions of women − domestic violence, child sexual abuse, child marriage, inequality before the law, poverty and lack of dignity − are not uniformly regarded as ignominious and seen as human rights abuses.
Solidarity and organization are crucial elements to create sustainable ways of living in which all categories of people are encouraged to contribute. 8 March 2016 is a reminder of the positive steps taken but also the distance yet to be covered.
See the biography by Marie-Sophie André and Christophe Beaufils Papus (Paris: Berg International, 1995, 354pp.)