‘A day without us’ by Hamama Naïli

A few days ago, 8 March, dedicated to the fight for women’s rights, was celebrated around the world. On social networks, discussions flourished, but in this year of 2024, one question remains: are women’s social demands really at the heart of online debates?

To fully grasp the meaning of 8 March, it is essential to go back to the origins of this day, shaped by progressive ideals and movements.

The origins of 8 March lie in the socialist movements that worked to establish the International Day for Women’s Rights. In the United States, a ‘National Women’s Day’ was organised as early as 1909, an initiative attributed to Theresa Serber Malkiel, a Jewish American socialist worker. At the Second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen in 1910, Clara Zetkin, a German activist, proposed the idea of a day dedicated to women’s rights. Although the date of 8 March was not fixed at the time, the idea of mobilising women ‘in agreement with the class-conscious political and trade union organisations of the proletariat’ was already present.

In the USSR, this day rapidly gained momentum, first with the ‘International Women Workers’ Day”, which was celebrated on 3 March 1913 and 8 March 1914. Then, the demonstrations by women workers in Petrograd on 8 March 1917 were seen as the starting point of the Russian Revolution. The date of 8 March was officially adopted in the Soviet Union in 1921.
After 1945, many countries decided to celebrate 8 March, culminating in the proclamation of International Women’s Day by the United Nations in 1977.

In France, François Mitterrand officially recognised International Women’s Rights Day on 8 March 1982, on the initiative of Yvette Roudy, then Minister for Women’s Rights, and the Women’s Liberation Movement, marking an important turning point in the fight for women’s rights.

Today, 8 March is firmly rooted in French society and provides an opportunity to remind people that equality between women and men is an everyday issue. On X (formerly Twitter), this day has given rise to debate, sometimes far removed from its true nature.

More than 24.2K messages were published on 8 March 2024 in connection with the Day, but the main topics of discussion did not reflect the social struggles and demands to ‘win real equality at work and in life’, as defended by trade unions and feminist collectives.

Courbe des mentions liées au 8 mars sur X

The most animated discussions focused on the incidents that occurred during the demonstration in Paris. Apart from the terms ‘women’s rights’ and ‘international rights’, inherent to the Day, the tensions within the Parisian march were at the heart of the debates. Indeed, the march for women’s rights was strongly marked by events in the Middle East, leading to violent clashes between pro-Palestinian activists and the Jewish Community Protection Service. A subject that was widely discussed by influential accounts from both the ultra-right and ultra-left spheres, who blamed each other for the clashes that occurred, shaping their own accounts of how the women’s rights march unfolded.

Nuage des mots-clés les plus associés à la journée du 8 mars sur X

Another aspect to be highlighted in this analysis concerns the way in which political figures treat the day. The lexical fields associated with 8 March show marked disparities, reflecting their position on the political spectrum.

Representatives of the presidential majority mainly spoke about the ceremony at the Place Vendôme to seal the constitutionalisation of abortion. This historic event marks ‘the culmination of this collective struggle’, as the President of the Republic put it, and was widely hailed by members of the same political current, such as Yaël Braun-Pivet, Nathalie Loiseau, Aurore Bergé, Valérie Hayer and Éric Dupond-Moretti.

On the far right, the identity and security perspectives are prominent. Political figures focused their discourse on the violence suffered by French women, attributing it to ‘immigration’ or ‘multiculturalism’. At the same time, an article entitled ‘Touche pas à ma fille!’, signed by Marion Maréchal, was published in Le Journal du Dimanche on the same day. Moreover, this subject was the subject of 4,900 posts on X, reporting a decline in women’s safety and the rise in immigration.

In the messages published by left-wing political representatives, we see a preponderance of terms closely linked to militancy and trade unionism. We find a series of words and expressions, signs of a collective left-wing allegiance, such as: ‘struggles, equality, justice, demands, equal pay, rights won and to be won, the ongoing fight’.

On Instagram, on the other hand, the tone of the messages was more in tune with the spirit of the day. With over 4,400 posts generating more than 400,000 likes and 9,000 comments, the platform was the scene of a discussion focused more on issues of equality between men and women, the fight against unequal pay, and the denunciation of sexist and sexual violence. Instagram users appear to be using the platform as a space to educate themselves and take action on societal issues, illustrating the potential of social networks for mobilisation.

This disparity in treatment is partly due to the specific use of each platform. Instagram presents itself as a place where contemporary social and societal issues are highlighted. According to Instagram’s Trend Report, users say they use the platform to educate themselves about social issues, which can lead to real activism. In fact, according to the data collected, 52% of users surveyed claim to actively follow accounts committed to promoting social justice and activism.
This divergence between X and Instagram raises important questions about how social platforms influence public debate. While X can sometimes foster polarised and one-sided exchanges, Instagram seems to offer a space more conducive to awareness-raising and activism.

Although online discussions can sometimes deviate from their original objectives, the day continues to inspire action and reflection on gender equality.
In its very essence, the day is a symbol of hope for women’s social struggles. This year, a number of feminist groups and trade unions, including the CGT and CFDT, which have elected two women to lead them in 2023: Sophie Binet and Marylise Léon, have called for a feminist strike to demand equal pay and the promotion of predominantly female professions, particularly in the care and social sectors. These are sectors under pressure, but essential to society. While these calls were timidly discussed on X, with 728 mentions, they were widely echoed in the media, especially in the regional daily press, which covered local demonstrations and encouraged mobilisation under the slogan ‘A day without us!