Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Many Faces of Women's Day

For Lidiya Popova, International Women's Day, with all its pretensions of equality of suffrage, adds up to little more than a day off work and a chance to watch her husband do the dishes.

"My husband cleans the entire house, cooks a wonderful meal and I don't have to lift a finger all day", said the 28-year-old secretary, who spent the day at Gorky Park with friends, enjoying one of the first sunny days of the Russian spring.

But not everyone used the holiday to relax. On Oktyabrskaya Square Monday, several hundred women banged spoons against pots and pans to show their dissatisfaction with the Yeltsin government. To some the emptiness of the pots symbolizes the lack of food; to others the servitude to which women are subjected.

"International Women's Day is the day we used to celebrate the fact that Soviet women were working equally alongside men to build socialism", said Valentina Stepanko, one of the demonstrators. "Now our role has been diminished to nothing".

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and his predecessor Gavriil Popov on Monday showed their support for women around the world in a traditional Russian way - by taking a dip in the icy waters of a lake in Serebryany Bor, a forest outside the city.

International Women's Day was first conceived in Copenhagen in 1910 during the Second International Socialist Women's Conference. In 1911, the holiday was officially celebrated in some European countries and in 1913 it was finally introduced in St. Petersburg. Workers did not get the day off until 1965.

But for the women demonstrating on Oktyabrskaya Square, the holiday only highlighted the growing plight of women under economic reform.

"All Soviet women must reunite to bring back the Union", said Nadezhda Pavlova, a member of the Soviet Women Congress Foundation at the demonstration Monday which included a march to the government buildings on Staraya Square. "We used to have free education and free medical care. We used to have friendship of all nations and now we live in an empire of hate".

But most Russian women simply spent International Women's Day relaxing and leaving the usual household chores to their husbands. Many seized the opportunity to enjoy a day off by visiting friends and relatives.

"It is kind of a strange holiday", said the museum director Raisa Ostrovsky. "I don't particularly think much of it at all. It's nice, but why it is celebrated is still something I don't really understand".