Traditionally in Germany, the women take over the country on Weiberfastnacht – the last Thursday before Lent. As part of the Karneval celebrations, this day is the official start of the carousing. Our first year in Düsseldorf, I was amazed to see a grown man dressed as a teddy bear buying rolls in the baker at 7am. On my way home, I saw other adults in fancy dress, all heading for the train station to go into the town centre for the 11.11am kick off.
The women storm the town halls – literally, using ladders – and cut of the ties of any men they meet to symbolise taking the power from them. The men sport their tie stumps with pride. One year my husband was working in a different area of Germany that Thursday and was terribly disappointed when he came home with his tie intact.
Of course, Germany is not ruled by women just one day of the year. Angela Merkel is proving to be a popular Kanzler, and has steered the country through the credit crisis with a steady hand. Even those who are on the left of the political spectrum have been expressing grudging admiration, as Germany is one of the least affected countries. We were in Munich recently and there was a notable difference between the atmosphere there and the one in UK at the moment. No talk of cuts or crisis. Indeed, there was a feeling of optimism and Aufschwung.
Germans are no strangers to the Frauenbewegung – Women’s Rights Movement. The initiator of the International Women’s Day was, like Angela Merkel, a woman from the east of Germany, Clara Zetkin.
I was thinking about this earlier, how these women organised an international day of protest at a time where there was no internet, no international phone calls, no mobile phones. How much easier we have it today, when we can pick up a phone, send an email or a text, post on Twitter or Facebook.
Women can connect in so many ways. Websites such as Mumsnet bring activists from all over the country together. They have a thriving Feminist section including a Feminist Book Club and have launched campaigns to raise awareness of issues such as miscarriage care. Next week they will launch a campaign about rape.
Mumsnet is also the place where I began to flex my feminist muscles. It was on Mumsnet that I encouraged to start writing and blogging, and there I received the encouragement and support to start Jump! – an e-zine for preteen girls that will launch on 20th March 2012.
Clara Zetkins could never have imagined how much she would influence the life of women for over 100 years after that first International Women’s Day. She could not imagine how our lives would change, how technology made our lives both easier and more complex.
Zum Wohl, Clara. Wir Frauen danken Dir.