The United Nations declared 1975 to be International Women’s Year. For countless women in Australia, March 8, 1975 was the first time they were exposed to the militant women’s liberation movement at their local International Women’s Day celebrations. In Melbourne, around 4,000 women flooded into the streets to march to Carlton Gardens and then attended a reception honoring Australian women pioneers. Meanwhile, in Brisbane, 29 women’s organizations hosted activities and speakers. Women clutched pamphlets and organizing leaflets with powerful statements such as:
International Women’s Year Means:
- Women actually exist (for one year)
- Women don’t have full human rights (imagine an international men’s year)
- Women are still struggling to survive (Do you feel free to walk alone at night?)
As one woman came up to the microphone to speak, there was a rumble in the gray clouds overhead. Drops of water spattered on the streets; as the rain became heavier, everyone scattered for cover. On the stage remained Eva Bacon, absolutely soaked but successful in coordinating another International Women’s Day event, one of the countless she had planned throughout the years.
Eva Goldner was born to Jewish parents in Austria in 1909. She grew up witnessing the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism, and was politically active from a young age. She served as a member of International Red Aid, a Communist organization that was established to provide aid to political prisoners. As fascism continued to spread across Europe, she also worked to help victims of fascism. When the Nazis entered Austria in 1938, Eva and her mother joined the more than 90,000 German and Austrian Jews who were forced to flee for their safety.
Eva and her mother fled to Australia, where they continued their trade as dressmakers. In her new home, Eva immediately became involved with left politics. Eva attended her first International Women’s Day meeting in Australia, a meeting which she said profoundly impacted her politics. Shortly afterwards, she joined the Communist Party of Australia, where she met her husband Ted Bacon.
In 1944, representatives from 90 different organizations across Australia convened in Sydney to discuss the issue of women’s liberation. Eva Bacon was one of the women who attended that foundational conference, where the conference attendees drafted an Australian Women’s Charter. The Charter called for equality in opportunity, work and pay, better health services, child care, pensions and welfare. Furthermore, because Eva and others like her knew that women’s liberation was predicated on the liberation of people from all forms of oppression, the charter also supported the need for better Aboriginal welfare through federal government controls, and demanded land rights for tribal Aborigines.
The end of World War II marked the beginning of a political reckoning for women around the globe. People were eager for a return to “normalcy” after many years of bloodshed and separation. However, the world had changed dramatically—there was no “normal” to return to. Women had joined the labor force en masse in factories and textile mills to aid in the war effort. However, when the war ended, they found that their employment opportunities evaporated, and their work was compensated at lower levels than before. The sexist motivation to underpay women to raise profits for bosses was laid bare for all to see. Not only this, but full-day nurseries and daycare facilities disappeared, along with federal funding for child care. Other women found themselves widowed, or trying to care for shell-shocked husbands with virtually no community support and limited medical knowledge of the condition. Of course, the women of Australia refused to stand for this. They had seen the prosperity available to them when they were compensated fairly and received government and community support for the labor of childcare.
Eva Bacon saw these economic conditions and the need for a mass organization that raised socialist consciousness around women’s issues. She joined forces with her fellow socialist feminists to form the Union of Australian Women in 1950, and breathed new life into IWD. Until 1950, International Women’s Day was typically celebrated in the form of small meetings and luncheons between socialist and communist women in Australia. Socialist and communist groups were some of the only organizations loudly celebrating the day, and they were banned from celebrating IWD in public spaces because of rampant anti-communist sentiment during the war. As the IWD secretary, Eva Bacon organized IWD celebrations around certain themes, such as childcare and Aboriginal rights. She saw IWD as a year-round project that culminated in its March 8th celebration. Under Eva’s guidance, IWD was internationalist, pro-peace, and socialist.
In 1957, IWD commemorated the 50th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in Australia, and invited suffragist leaders to speak about world peace and the power that women and socialism have to shift world history for the better. This event was so successful that Eleanor Roosevelt even sent them a message from nearly 10,000 miles away. In 1960, Eva Bacon invited Madam Chao Feng of the National Women’s Federation of China to a national tour of Union of Australian Women (UAW) meetings from Sydney to Perth at a time when Australia still refused to recognize China as a country. This invitation highlights the importance of international socialist solidarity, and the common struggles that women around the world face.
Eva Bacon’s commitment to the liberation of women even took her back to her home country, Austria. In 1952, she returned to Vienna as a delegate to the Conference in Defense of Women. The conference tied children’s welfare to issues such as education, housing and world peace. Her heavy involvement in International Women’s Day also took her to Mexico in 1975, during International Women’s Year. The Australian government selected Eva as a delegate to the Tribune for the World Conference on Women, where women from around the world could meet to discuss the future of women’s liberation.
According to her own personal notes, Eva Bacon was most proud of reviving International Women’s Day celebrations in Australia. These celebrations and the speakers she invited helped women make sense of the sexism they were facing in the post-war period, and urged them to fight for their rights and a peaceful, socialist future. Eva Bacon, ¡presente!