Happy 724th Birthday


As I am sure that many of you are already aware, today is International Women’s Day. It is a day upon which we celebrate and remember women; celebrate what we have achieved so far and remember the work that we have to do.

I wondered why 8 March was chosen for this day, so did some research. It seems that women had already started marching, but not specifically on 8 March 1914 until there was a march in London from Bow to Trafalgar in support of women’s suffrage. Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested at Charing Cross on her way to speak at Trafalgar Square. Imagine that, being arrested for almost, nearly, but not quite, speaking.

On 28 July 1914, the First World War broke out. I mention it not only because it is a significant part of our history, but also because I wonder if thoughts starting changing when fighting a war that claimed sixteen million (presumably predominantly male) lives. I wonder if it occurred to those men who were left that a) they were not keen on fighting and b) whilst they were off fighting, it was necessary to have someone running the country back at home. Also, maybe the women were getting a bit peeved at running the country back at home and in return being given no rights to choose the government that was sending their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons to war.

Three years later on 8 March 1917, female textile workers demonstrated in Petrograd, the capital of the Russian Empire. They were asking for equal rights, the end to the First World War and the end to Czarism; thus began the Russian Revolution. Seven days later, Czar Nicholas II abdicated and the provisional government granted women the right to vote. A year later, Britain and Germany gave women the vote (you had to be over thirty and reach certain property qualifications in Britain). It was not until 1928 in Britain that women over the age of twenty one were given the right to vote, twenty one years after the Grand Duchy of Finland (as was) gave women the vote in 1907.

It was handy that Britain and Germany had afforded their females this right, as less than twenty years later, they were on opposing sides in the Second World War. The estimated deaths of the Second World War are between fifty and eighty million. At sixty million dead, it was around three per cent of the world population as it stood in 1940. When that many people are being slaughtered, you simply cannot afford to be too fussy about who is running the country at home, even if they are girls.

Communist countries celebrated 8 March as a day for women from around this time. It was not until 1975, the International Year of the Woman that the UN celebrated the day, and two years later invited member states to also celebrate. In 1975 the British Parliament enacted the Sex Discrimination Act, making it unlawful to discriminate against someone based on their gender. That is (only just) in my lifetime. It is very, very recent history.

After reading all of this information, I began pondering on famous women about whom I could write an interesting article; Emily Davison, Amelia Earhart, Maya Angelou…..I then decided to have a look more specifically for women who were born or died on 8 March. I  asked Madam Google for some answers. Madam Google listed a number of websites that I could investigate. Lots of men were listed. Lots and lots. All in various fields of expertise; scientists, historians, writers, artists….all with biographical detail, some with pictures or paintings as appropriate. Not so much for the ladies. I have found one woman. Just one. Out of the whole of human history, there is seemingly one woman with a birth or death day of 8 March who was worthy of note.  Today is her seven hundred and twenty fourth birthday. Her name was Beatriz de Castela (Beatrice of Castile), born on 8 March 1293. Beatriz was Queen Consort of Portugal and died on 25 October 1359. If you ever find yourself in Lisbon Cathedral you can see where she rests – a reminder of how far we have come, and as I have discovered today, how very far we still have to go.

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