In Central Asia, the day is being used to reinforce traditional gender rolesby Jessica Abrahams / March 7, 2016 / Leave a comment
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In 1910, Clara Zetkin—head of the Women’s Office of the Social Democratic Party of Germany—proposed an idea: every year, women in every country would gather on the same day to celebrate their achievements and press for equal rights.
More than a century on and International Women’s Day, held on 8th March, still offers an opportunity for people around the world to promote women’s equality—organising protests, festivities, talks, debates, mentoring sessions, performances and a host of other activities usually based around a central theme—this year, #PledgeForParity.
In Central Asia it is one of the most hotly anticipated days of the year and a national holiday. But the celebrations have diverged from what was originally intended. Rather than an emblem of women’s rights, one expert on the region describes it as “like Valentine’s Day”—cities become a sea of pink as men give flowers and cards to female friends, teachers and colleagues; organise meals for female family members and offer greetings and good wishes to women they meet. Elaine Conkievich, representative for UN Women in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, tells me that International Women’s Day in Central Asia is “considered to be the day of spring, feminine beauty [and] tenderness.” In Tajikistan, the government has recently rebranded the event from International Women’s Day to Mother’s Day. A celebration that was supposed to challenge gender roles is being used to reinforce them.
In 1917, Russian women used the day to launch an anti-war protest that contributed to the Tsar’s abdication shortly after, and the subsequent provisional government granted women the…