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Russia, on 8 March is enticingly branded ‘sunshine and flowers, smiles and gifts’.
Initially conceived as a symbol of solidarity of working women striving for equality and emancipation, it has turned into a stereotype in an increasingly consumerist culture.
Supplies of flowers increased tenfold in the Russian capital amid inflated prices.
Tulips seem to be the chosen favourite, found all around the city, by metro stations, in the hands of smiling women.
Some feel the day has lost its meaning due to rampant commercialisation.
The BRICS Post asked a few working women in Moscow what the day meant to them:
“I’m pretty neutral about this holiday. It started out as a celebration of working women, and now it’s just another consumer oriented holiday – an excuse to spend, basically,” says Natalia Antonova, acting editor-in-chief of the Moscow News.
“That’s a day that has never excited me – in childhood and youth probably…Other days, even the so-called “red days of the calendar” are sometimes more festive than March 8. By the way – I prefer to work this day,” – says Svetlana Zaboleva, a correspondent for the “Moscow 24” TV channel.
“Well this day means absolutely nothing to me. It’s a fun concept but where I grew up it was a day when women went to a restaurant or a bar and just had a girls’ night out really. It wasn’t a public holiday and people didn’t make a big deal out of it,” says Marina Kosareva, co-host of “Prive’t Russia” at RT.
There are comparisons with Saint Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, when flowers and sweets are usually bestsellers.
The idea gained ground with an aggressive marketing trend where people are forced to spend money for overpriced gifts.
“Here in Russia it’s almost like Valentine’s day all over again… Russians when they congratulate each other they say or write these long wishes which sort of forces you to follow suit. But if you never grew up in this culture, where toasts are a must and they are five minutes long minimum, then it’s hard to do the same,” Kosareva said.
Some still believe the holiday brings in good cheer.
“I feel it’s good this holiday exists. Also, it’s funny how men will promptly offer their seats to women in the metro today!” Zaboleva said.
Even sceptics can not deny the women-bonding and the euphoric, celebratory mood that the day ushers in.
“But it’s also a chance to exchange words of kindness and appreciation with the women in your life, and that is never a bad thing. It can be a moment of solidarity,” Antonova added.
In Moscow museums are free today and women are given flowers in the capital’s parks.
Traditionally, astronauts from the International Space Station were the first to customarily congratulate Russian women today.
Russian meteorologists have announced the weather will be above zero on this day – instead of the traditional Celsius scale they use the Fahrenheit scale today, the only exception in a year.
So even though it is frosty in Moscow today, Muscovites can persuade themselves that spring is in full swing.
Russian Directorate for Road Traffic Safety instructed all inspectors to congratulate female drivers if they were stopped on the road.
This day has a 150-year history. In 1857 female workers of the New York textile factory went to the streets demanding higher wages and fair working conditions.
Social democrat Clara Zetkin proposed feminists to set a day they would use to focus attention on the problems of women and the appalling gender inequality.
In Russia, the International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time in 1913. It stressed the economic and political equality of sexes.
The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR made March 8 a day off in 1965 as tribute to achievements of women in building communism, heroism during the war and efforts for peace between people.
Today is a public holiday in Russia, which often means a long weekend. As winter thaws, people enjoy the first signs of a long-anticipated spring.