IWD: From Declaration of the Rights of Woman in France to Social Contract in Rojava

From Olympe de Gouges, who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Woman in France to the women who led a revolution and drafted the Social Contract, women continue to weave their struggle and resistance together on March 8.


News Center- Women have been struggling and resisting for their existence all over the world for centuries. Women, who resist their fathers, their brothers, their husbands, the dictators, the bosses and the exploiters at home, in the street, at work, rebuild their own lives and preserve the legacy of 'women’s freedom struggle’ that was handed down to today's women many years ago.

The patriarchal mindset and authoritarian regimes use violence against women; from Olympe de Gouges, who was sentenced to death and executed in 1793 for writing the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen, to the deaths of young women working in the Lowell mills in 1834; from Arin Mirkan, who lost her life while fighting for her people in Rojava, to Jina Mahsa Amini, who was killed in Iran for not covering her hair properly; from women behind bars to mothers demanding peace; from women garment workers to women agricultural worker; from women journalists being arrested for reporting the truth to political women held hostage in prisons for years. Despite everything, women show at every opportunity how life can be changed when women unite for freedom. The International Women’s Day whispers the traces of this change and resistance more strongly this year.

First women’s organized action

The International Women’s Day is the symbol of women' struggle and resistance against gender-based violence, femicide, harassment, rape, exploitation and inequality. For thousands of years, women have been resisting for freedom despite the patriarchal mentality trying to enslave women. The first women’s organized action took place in 1642, when women petitioned Parliament during the Civil War in England. In 1647, the second petition was submitted by servant girls to object to the pressure and long working hours. In the same year, women submitted a petition for the release of an arrested woman named Lilburne. Women said, “Shall we sit still and keep at home?” Petitions had an important role to react against something in that period.

Olympe de Gouges

Women had no rights in many countries. Even in France, one of the most developed countries of the world, Napoleon's reactionary laws prevailed in the 1960s. Married women had no rights on properties, on their children. Abortion was forbidden. Women were paid less than men. Maternity leave was unpaid. There was no day nursery. Women could work if they could take permission from their husbands. After the revolution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen de 1789) set by the French National Constituent Assembly. However, Olympe De Gouges said that the word “homme” used in the declaration meant ‘men’ in English and she published her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen in 1791. She was executed by guillotine during the Reign of Terror (1793–1794) for criticizing the regime of the Revolutionary government by writing the declaration.

Resistance of the MilL Girls of Lowell

The Lowell mill girls were young female workers who came to work in industrial corporations in Lowell, Massachusetts, during the Industrial Revolution in the United States. The workers initially recruited by the corporations were daughters of New England farmers, typically between the ages of 15 and 35. They protested increasingly harsh working conditions. The Mill Girls worked from 5:00 am until 7:00 pm, for an average of 73 hours per week. They had to pay rent to stay in houses around the factory. Women could not go out after 10 pm. The Mill Girls organized protests and strikes, however, the strike failed and within days, the protesters had all returned to work at reduced pay or left town. In 1836, the female textile workers organized protests and strikes due to the rent hike and there was enormous community support for the striking female textile workers. In the end, the proposed rent hike was seen as a violation of the written contract between the employers and the employees. Women founded their first association called the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA).

March 8

On March 8, 1857, 40 thousand garment workers of a factory staged a strike demanding better working conditions in New York City, USA. 129 women died in a fire (Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire) started in the factory because the doors to the stairwells and exits were locked. More than 10 thousand people attended the funeral of the workers.

An international Women's Day was proposed at a conference in Copenhagen in 1910, held by socialist organizations from around the world. Clara Zetkin, a German socialist, suggested the idea to commemorate the strike of garment workers in the United States. The proposal received unanimous approval by over 100 women from 17 countries.

Clara's idea for an International Women's Day had no fixed date. After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. The United Nations began celebrating International Women's Day in the International Women's Year, 1975. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women's rights and world peace.

 First celebration on March 8 by women in Turkey

International Women’s Day was first secretly celebrated in 1921 under the leadership of Rahime Selimova, Cemile Nuşirvanova sisters, and Naciye Hanım, members of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP). March 8 was first celebrated as a public celebration in 1975 by members of the Progressive Women's Association (İKD). Before the military coup took place in Turkey in 1980, members of the İKD celebrated the day by organizing activities every day. In the İKD congress held in 1976, the women decided to take action for March 8 to be declared as a public holiday by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. İKD tried to celebrate the day in mass and held its activities in big meeting halls. Women couldn’t celebrate International Women’s Day for four years due to the military coup that took place in Turkey in 1980 and the public gatherings were banned due to the declaration of the curfew. Women of the İKD decided to hold “White Scarf” actions.

Women wearing “White Scarf”

On March 8, 1980, women wore white scarves and took to the streets. The white scarf was used as a symbol to protest financial difficulties, the increasing prices, unemployment, and chaos in the country.  In every city of Turkey, tens of thousands of women wore white scarves while going to the workplace, shopping, or going for a walk. People stopped working in many factories. Thereupon, “the martial law commanders" prohibited wearing white scarves in some cities. Women began to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, 1984.

Kurdish women

It is necessary to look at the history of Kurdish women to know how they celebrate International Women’s Day. Their determination to struggle has inspired many women. Kurdish women started this struggle in 1919. And today they have celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 by organizing protests, demonstrations, and activities participated by thousands of women. Kurdish women are at the forefront of the struggle for women and identity. The Association for the Rise of Kurdish Women (Kürt Kadınları Teâli Cemiyeti) founded in 1919 was the first organized struggle of the Kurdish women. Then the name of the association was changed into Union of Revolutionary Democratic Women (Devrimci Demokratik Kadınlar Birliği/DDKAD). DDKAD was the first Kurdish women’s organization to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. The members of the union were detained in Diyarbakır and jailed during the military coup of 1980.

International Women’s Day was celebrated by Kurdish women for the first time in 1997. And the first rally for International Women’s Day was organized in 1998. The women gathering to celebrate by wearing their traditional clothes faced police violence. In 2001, women drew attention to the isolation in prisons. Kurdish women celebrated the day between 2002 and 2005 by shouting their different demands. The women flocked to the streets on March 8, 2006, with the motto, “For peace, a world without violence”.

Women in Rojava

International Women’s Day was first secretly celebrated by the women of Rojava in 1987; they first celebrated their day at homes due to the oppressive Baathist regime. In the following years, women decided to take to the streets on March 8. The women came together in the Terteb village of Qamishlo city in 2004.  In those years, women could not freely go out and celebrate IWD, because the regime immediately attacked them. Many women were arrested by the regime forces for celebrating IWD. Nazliye Keçel was one of these women. She went missing after being arrested. The fate of Nazliye Keçel is still unknown.

Despite the attacks on them, the women of Rojava continued to celebrate their day. Thanks to thousands of women, Yekîtiya Star Women's Organization was founded in 2005. Women organized many activities and events under the umbrella of Yekîtiya Star. In 2009, women decided to celebrate IWD in the Derik city of NE Syria. The regime forces attacked the women but women showed great resistance against the regime forces. Gulê Selmo, a member of Yekîtiya Star, also became the symbol of struggling women. She was killed on March 13, 2012, by the Baathist regime. Women carried her coffin on their shoulders and buried her. Gulê Selmo was the first martyr of Yekîtiya Star. After Gule Selmo, Kurdish women from Rojava promised to fulfill Gule Selmo's dream.

Call for “Democratic Autonomy” from women

In 2013, Kurdish women celebrated International Women’s Day in many cities such as Kobanî, Afrîn, and Cizre Region. They celebrated the 8th of March without any restrictions for the first time. On March 8, 2013, the women decided to strengthen the Democratic Autonomy and self-defense. On January 21, 2014, they declared “Democratic Autonomy” in the city of Cizre. The co-presidential system began to be implemented in every part of life and women celebrated International Women’s Day in Rojava on March 8 by taking to the streets to support democratic autonomy.

In 2015, ISIS attacked Kobanî to invade the city but they were defeated by the Women's Defense Units (YPJ). YPJ declared its victory by defeating ISIS in Kobanê on January 26, 2015. Members of the YPJ realized the dreams of women in NE Syria as they promised to Arin Mirxan. On March 8, 2015, women of Rojava and women of Nusaybin celebrated International Women’s Day together on the Qamishlo-Nusaybin border. Kurdish, Arab, and Syriac women celebrated their day by wearing their traditional clothes with the slogan, “Kobanî did not fall, women's struggle continues”. Meanwhile, women in Aleppo and Afrin celebrated the day with great enthusiasm. In 2016, women celebrated the International Women’s Day in Tabqa, Hasakah , Qamishlo, Kobanî, and Afrin with the slogans “Women's Freedom is the Foundation of a Free Society”.