International Women’s Day 2021

by Judith Hickson, Curator, Social History

One of the focal points for the women’s rights movement, the first ‘Women’s Day’ was declared by the Socialist Party of America in 1909. On 18 March 1911, amid increasing and widespread calls for women’s rights and suffrage, the first International Woman’s Day was held in Germany, Austria and Denmark.

The first Australian International Women’s Day rally was held in the Sydney Domain on March 25, 1928. Organised by the Militant Women’s Movement, women called for equal pay for equal work, an eight- hour working day for shop girls and paid leave. In 1929, Brisbane followed Sydney’s lead to host Australia’s second International Women’s Day event.

In 1993, the United Nations’ announcement of the first Year of World’s Indigenous Peoples was celebrated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women as a step forward for their voices to be heard in the calls for recognition, self-determination and participation in political decisions that govern their lives.

T-Shirt worn at 1993 International Women’s Day march, Brisbane

This t-shirt, featuring artwork that celebrates the happiness, hope and significance of that particular moment in time to the Indigenous women of Australia, was created by Patricia (Auntie Patsy) M Brimble, an Aboriginal artist and Birri Gubba Elder from the Giya/Gia Clan near the Proserpine/Whitsunday region of Queensland. 

The artwork, also reproduced on an International Women’s Day poster (a copy of which is held by the National Library of Australia), was especially designed in support of the first Year of World’s Indigenous Peoples, first proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, and now observed on 9 August each year.

According to the March 1993 issue of Green Left Weekly, the 1993 Brisbane International Women’s Day March was led by ‘five hundred Murri and Torres Strait Islander women from Brisbane’s King George Square to Murri meeting place Musgrave Park.  The festival in the park boasted an all-Murri platform and entertainers from the Murri community.  Speakers linked the struggle for land rights with that for women’s rights’.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 1993 marked a significant move forwards for Indigenous rights with the passing of The Native Title Act 1993 (NTA) by the Australian Parliament, the purpose of which is ‘to provide a national system for the recognition and protection of native title and for its co-existence with the national land management system’.

As well as being an important memento of this important celebration, this t-shirt calls us to reflect on the past (almost) three decades since this event – what has or has not changed for women – especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women – and the hurdles still faced both personally and politically in the journey towards equality and recognition.