A History of International Women's Day
in words and images

War Years

Equal pay, including for servicewomen, became a major issue during the war years from 1940-45. During these years, the Women's Employment Board was set up with powers to set wage scales for women entering male dominated industries. This only affected about seven percent of employed women who had their wages lifted to rates ranging from 80-100 percent of male rates Most wages, however, were pegged and the only other general movement in women's wages took place in 1945 when another group of industries was declared "vital" to the war effort and women's rates in these were lifted to 75 percent of the male rate.

IWD was a continuing vehicle for discussion about equal pay and child care. But, after a slight hesitation at the beginning of the war, the main emphasis was on the war effort, including support or women's resistance in occupied countries and campaigns such as Medical Aid to Russia in which Jessie Street played a prominent part.

In 1942, IWD was marked by an event with a decided international flavour Allied Women's Day. It took place in the Sydney Town Hall with speakers representing Greece, Free France, Poland, Netherlands, East Indies and the United States. In 1943, 800 women gathered in Perth's Esplanade around the theme of the Role of Defiant Womanhood to highlight women's efforts in support of the war against fascism with its aggression and reactionary doctrines such as "Man is a soldier and a servant of the state. Woman is the mother and servant of man."

In Newcastle, in the same year, an IWD function filled the Town Hall to hear Katherine Susannah Prichard, a Yugoslav woman partisan, and a woman from the Chinese Embassy. Marie Gollan, who was the secretary of the Newcastle IWD committee then says that ....

at that time Russia was very popular and IWD was more or less looked on as a leftwing thing. But we had women from all sorts of organisations involved and we filled the Town Hall two or three years in succession. We tried to get people from different countries because then we saw IWD more as an international event.

In 1944, in Melbourne, the IWD activities received greetings from Prime Minister John Curtin and Minister for External Affairs H.V. Evatt, in recognition of women's contribution to the war effort, though government recognition was not enough to realise full equal pay or even higher wages for most women.

The same year, IWD conferences were held in Sydney, Maitland, Katoomba, Newcastle, Wollongong and Perth and meetings in Newcastle and Adelaide.

By then, issues such as housing, education, the need to retain the small advances made in child care, wages and jobs during the war, and the rights of Aboriginal women were being raised.

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