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Refugee Women in Politics That You Should Know About: Clara Zetkin

They smash gender norms, they challenge entrenched beliefs: Welcome to Day 3 in our 'Refugee Women in Politics' series. Today we are taking a look at the German Marxist theorist and co-founder of International Womens Day, Clara Zetkin.

This is a vintage one, but Clara Ketkin makes our list because she was one of the first ever women in modern day politics to occupy real power within her party. She was a champion of Women's Rights, an amazing public speaker, and her legacy, International Women's Day, has endured for over a century.

Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) was a key figure in the German Marxist movement, and technically became a refugee twice; first when she was exiled to Paris during World War 1, and second when she fled to the USSR at the onset of World War 2.

Zetkin became involved with politics from an early age and was an active member of the women's and labour movement. She later formally joined the Socialist Workers Party, which then transitioned to become the modern day Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).

(photo via Wikipedia)

Zetkin was a leading figure in women's politics, and fought tirelessly for equal opportunities and women's suffrage. She was editor of the SPD women's newspaper 'Die Gleichheit' ('Equality'), and became the leader of the 'Women's office' at the SPD, AND she was instrumental in the founding of International Women's Day.

'National Women's Day' was first celebrated in New York on 28th February 1909, organised by the Socialist Party of America held in commemoration of the garment workers strike.

(Photo 1: 1909 march in New York, Photo 2: 1910 International Conference. Both via warmoven)

Later on in 1910 at the Socialist International Women's conference, an annual Women's Day was suggested and championed by Clara Zetkin and fellow socialist Luise Zeitz. Delegates from 17 countries agreed with the idea as a positive strategy for promoting equal rights and women's suffrage (i.e the right to vote). The next year on March 8th 1911, over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland celebrated International Women's Day, staging public protests to demand the right to vote, the right to hold public office, and against employment sex discrimination.

"Just as the worker is subjugated by Capitalists, so the woman is subjugated by man."

It is worth pointing out that Zetkin was not a privileged middle-class women's rights campaigner, nor somebody that argued for gender equality on the basis of fundamental rights. She was first and foremost a socialist, extremely anti-bourgeois, and argued for gender equality based upon economic principles:

"As a result of the transformation of the relations of production, woman is now economically independent, so both spouses now face eachother as equals."

In addition to being a Marxist theorist and Women's Rights activist, Zetkin was profoundly anti-war and was arrested on multiple occasions during the First World War for staging anti-war protest rallies and conferences.

In the years that followed Zetkin co-founded the Spartacist League and the Independent Social Democratic party of Germany (USPD). She also became a representative for the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and eventually part of the executive committee of the Communist International (Comintern).

She was an integral part of the Communist party network, and interviewed Lenin himself on "The Women's Question" in 1920 (read full interview here). She also received the Order of Lenin and the Order of the Red Banner.

When the Nazis took over Germany, the Communist Party was banned, and for the second time, Zetkin became a refugee, this time fleeing to the Soviet Union where she died shortly afterwards.

We wish to make it clear that Pass the Crayon does not support, nor condemn Marxism as a political ideology. We wish to write this post in celebration of the contribution Zetkin has made to the Women's Rights and Workers Rights movements. Regardless of her political persuasions, Zetkin was a flag-bearer for feminism, a passionate anti-war protester, and a deeply committed socialist and campaigner for workers rights. For a female to be so politically prominent in the late 19th and early 20th century is truly remarkable, and this is why she makes our list.

Thanks for reading our latest installment of Refugee Women in Politics That You Should Know About. Join us tomorrow for our next post, and don't forget to check out our previous picks: Ilhan Omar, and Golriz Ghahraman!

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