2010-2011 marks the Centenary Year of International Women’s Day. Every year on 8 March, we find Central and State Governments in India as well as Governments all over the world making pronouncements in favour of women. The market and media tend to project it as a day for men to buy women ‘gifts’ – reducing IWD to a meaningless and inane commercial event. Governments talk of women’s ‘empowerment’ – while all the time strengthening the social and economic structures that dis-empower women! In the newspapers and TV channels, and in the words of the heads of Governments, there is no hint of the actual history of International Women’s Day.

Was it the United Nations which began the tradition of IWD? Was it any government? Or was it ordinary, toiling women themselves who created history by choosing a day to mark their aspirations and demands for equality and freedom? When we celebrate a 100 years of IWD, what exactly are we commemorating and celebrating?

Governments and corporate media houses try to hide the real legacy of Women's Day, because they are deeply uncomfortable with the fact that it was communist women workers protesting on the streets a century ago, who started International Women's Day, in the years between 1909-2010. As the years passed, there were attempts to de-link IWD from its revolutionary communist legacy and political significance.

But down the years, women workers and the women’s movement have resisted this attempt to efface the real history and significance of IWD, and have kept alive Women’s Day as a day of protest and struggle for a world free of inequality. Be it in the US, UK, and other advanced capitalist countries, or in countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, or in the countries of Africa and Latin America, women’s movements, communist movements, trade unions and other people’s movements observe IWD every year as a day to commemorate and advance women’s struggles for equality and rights.

If women made the history of IWD, it is the women’s movement which must resist the attempts to efface and forget this history! This booklet is an attempt to remember and salute the true history of IWD, and also to recall and salute some of the milestones in the women’s movement. Needless to say, it is impossible in such a small booklet to include all the chapters of the glorious history of the women’s movement in India and the world. We have simply sought to recall some of the more prominent struggles and achievements – and apologise for the many omissions, in the hope that the reader herself will be inspired by this booklet to seek out more of the remarkable history that struggling women made!

We have also tried to indicate, briefly, some of the challenges faced by the Indian women’s movement today, and the insights and inspiration that the history of IWD and centuries of women’s struggles can give us in our struggle today.

In preparing this booklet, we thankfully acknowledge our debt for some photographs and records of the India women's movement to The History of Doing: An Illustrated Account of Movements for Women's Rights and Feminism in India 1800-1990, Radha Kumar, Verso 1993 and Bhartiya Mahila Andolan mein Communiston Ki Bhumika, Renu Chakravarti, People's Publishing House, 1983.