It’s been over 100 years since it became a tradition to raise awareness about gender equality as well as celebrating the achievements of women worldwide.
International women’s day, also known as IWD, was observed today around the world. Here is a basic guide on the day’s history and why it is celebrated.
- How did it emerge?
The idea of observing women’s day was first planted in New York City in 1908, amidst a debate regarding equality and oppression against women. Around 15,000 women held a protest march, demanding better wages and work hours as well as the right to vote.
In 1909, the first IWD was observed after the Socialist Party of America declared that the day should be marked across the US on the last Sunday of February until 1913.
By 1910, Clara Zetkin, leader of Germany's Social Democratic Party, proposed during the second International Conference of Working Women, that the emerging tradition of observing women's day in the US should be done so internationally. She also suggested the day be marked on the last Sunday in February.
Female leaders from 17 countries supported Zetkin’s idea, leading to the recognition of IWD for the first time in 1911.
On March 19 1911, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland followed America's example and honoured the day. One million women participated.
Meanwhile, the attention on women’s issues was growing in the US. The Bread and Roses campaign, named after a 1911 poem that was inspired by a speech of a women’s suffrage activist, was evidence of this. During a textile strike in 1912, the pairing of bread and roses symbolised the demand for a fair wage and better working conditions.
- Why is it celebrated on March 8?
March 8 became the official date of IWD after a women's protest in 1917 led to the forced abdication of Nicholas II, the last Russian Emperor.
In the early years, the IWD was celebrated on February 28, according to the Julian Calendar observed by Soviet Russia. It was converted to March 8, as per the Gregorian calendar, which is used by most of the world.
The day was mostly considered a labour movement until 1967 — the year when the feminist movement adopted it.
In 1975, the United Nations celebrated March 8 for the first time and invited member countries of the General Assembly to proclaim it as International Women’s Day two years later.
- Why is it still observed?
Started as a labour movement, the IWD today represents what women around the world have achieved and still strive to accomplish. The celebrations symbolically recognise women’s rights but also act as a reminder and a call for the acceleration of gender equality.
With the debate on gender equality raging across the world, there has been great progress, but there is still a lot to do in both developed and developing countries. The main problems include the gender pay gap, unfair working conditions, growing violence against women, and lack of female representation in powerful positions. Other pressing issues concern reduced access to education and healthcare compared to men.
According to the World Economic Forum, gender parity won’t be attained fully for almost a century. The Covid-19 pandemic may have made achieving this goal even more challenging, as UN Women says it may have set the gains on gender equality back by at least 25 years.
Covid-19 lockdowns around the world caused a serious rise in domestic abuse in women and girls, as well as deepening the gender-based pay gap. The pandemic also caused both men and women to take on more unpaid work, but women were more abused compared to men, according to a UN report that compiled data from 38 countries.