International Women’s Day looks very different in Eastern Europe
Because of its socialist history, International Women’s Day has always been a big deal in former communist countries across Eastern Europe. However, not in the way you might imagine.
I was born in Macedonia, formerly Yugoslavia in 1987, and my childhood memories of 8 March include buying flowers for all the women in my family, crafting a card for my mum and her getting frustrated at my dad’s inability to get the right brand of perfume. Think of International Women’s Day in this part of the world as a combination of Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
In school, every year the entire class would chip in to buy a gift for our head teacher. In my final year, the group in charge of choosing a gift stole a plant pot from the school grounds instead and blew all the money in an Internet café on Counter-Strike. But that’s another story. Our teachers never really took the time to explain why we celebrated this day, where it came from and why it was important. When they did then it was framed in typical masculine flattery – because women’s beauty inspires heroic deeds or because being somebody’s mother is the highest achievement in itself. Meanwhile, most of the rebellion centered on why women only get to have one day and not the entire year.
When I moved to the UK, I was confused at the lack of commercial acknowledgement of the holiday. Where were the women’s day spa discounts, roses, perfumes and me-time getaways?
The truth is women’s rights are incredibly important and over the years we have forgotten the political struggles that this day was designed to celebrate. It is not enough to dedicate a day of acknowledging women when the Prime Minister dedicates speeches on how women instead of fighting for equal representation should focus on giving birth and raising children and the Orthodox patriarchs of the region proclaim that feminism could destroy the nation.
Text from a poster in Macedonia reads: 8 March is not the day of the fairer sex, 8 March is the international reminder of the struggle for economic, political and societal equality of women. The fight against contemporary patriarchy is not over: the World Economic Forum predicts that the gender gap will not close until 2133!
So while it is positive that International Women’s Day is celebrated, it is important to acknowledge its feminist background. Women in post communist Eastern Europe are led to believe they don’t need feminism like the US and UK because here they’ve been “having it all” since the 1940s. Even if that meant working on top of taking care of all household chores, childcare and providing a fair share of emotional labour. Macedonian feminist author Rumena Buzarovska puts it well when she says; “The waft of roux at six in the morning is a specific local cultural phenomenon that for a long time illustrated the condition of women in our society.”
It is compelling to think that one day there will truly be no need for feminism but the stakes of resting on our laurels are too high.
This article is part of a special series of Flamingo blog content in honour of International Women’s Day on Tuesday March 8. To find out more about International Women’s Day, whose theme this year is ‘Pledge for Parity’, visit www.internationalwomensday.com.
- Article by Sandra Mardin