Australian activist Zelda D’Aprano created a legacy of achievements that have both directly and indirectly benefited Australian women.
Australian activist Zelda D’Aprano created a legacy of achievements that have both directly and indirectly benefited Australian women.

Australian activist recalled on International Women's Day

LET's hear it for the girls.

This International Womens Day, I wish to honour Zelda D'Aprano. Last month, at 92 years old, this great Australian activist for the women's movement passed away in her hometown of Melbourne.

She left behind a legacy of achievements that have both directly and indirectly benefited Australian women.

Born to Jewish immigrant parents in the-then slum area of Carlton, D'Aprano left school at 14, worked as a machinist in the clothing trade, married at 16, and went on to work in positions that ranged from mail sorter to dental nurse.

From the 1960s and for several decades onwards, she was at the forefront of the Women's Liberation Movement seeking equality in the workplace.

She was an ordinary working class woman, who responded to the injustices and indignities she and other women experienced with a life-long show of courageous and committed grassroots activism.

As an active unionist, her commitment to change saw her chain herself across the doors of the Commonwealth building and later the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in Melbourne in protest against the inadequacy of the decision on the Equal Pay case in 1969.

In 1995 Spinifex Press republished her 1977 autobiography 'Zelda', in which she detailed the everyday fights she took on for every woman.

For instance. D'Aprano describes a workplace response after admitting her absence was due to mensuration: "Good heavens - anyone would have thought I had syphilis".

She noted that, "hernias, haemorrhoids, and bad hearts" were acceptable for male absenteeism, but a woman's natural bodily functions were not.

In 1995 she received a Special Mention Award from the Centre for Australian Cultural Studies (Canberra) for 'An Outstanding Contribution to Australian Culture'.

She received a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from Macquarie University in 2000.

History of International Women's Day

1909: The first National Woman's Day was observed in the United States on 28 February. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honour of the 1908 garment workers' strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions.

1910: The Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, established a Women's Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women's rights and to build support for achieving universal suffrage for women. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance.

1911: As a result of the Copenhagen initiative, International Women's Day was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded women's rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.

1913-1914: International Women's Day also became a mechanism for protesting World War I. As part of the peace movement, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February. Elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8 March of the following year, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with other activists.

1917: Against the backdrop of the war, women in Russia again chose to protest and strike for "Bread and Peace" on the last Sunday in February (which fell on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar). Four days later, the Czar abdicated and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.

1975: During International Women's Year, the United Nations began celebrating International Women's Day on 8 March.

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