IWD: History of International Women’s Day

20 February 2017

IWD:  History of International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on 8 March in many countries around the world. It is a day when women are recognised for their achievements whilst also marking calls for gender parity.

When did IWD come about

It is difficult to pin-point precisely when International Women’s Day (IWD) began. It has been observed since the early 1900’s – a time where women around the world experienced significant gender inequality. The majority of women could not vote, leading to the establishment of suffrage movements. Additionally, women were not paid equally to their male counterparts, worked in dangerous conditions and had poorer access to education.

History of IWD

It is recorded that in 1908 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours. A year later, the first National Women’s Day was observed across the United States on 28 February.

The idea for an International Women’s Day was first presented at the second International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen in 1910. Clara Zetkin, leader of the Social Democratic Party in Germany suggested that in every country, on the same day every year, there should be a Women’s Day to honour the women’s rights movement and build support for universal suffrage. The conference, attended by more than 100 women from 17 countries, agreed to Clara Zetkin’s suggestion and IWD was formed.

In 1911 IWD was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark and Switzerland on 19 March by over a million people. IWD was observed for the first time in Russia in February 1913. In the same year, IWD was transferred to 8 March and it has been celebrated on this date ever since.

The United Nations first celebrated IWD in 1975. Since then it has created a theme each year for the celebration. This year’s theme is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”.

The digital hub for IWD, internationalwomensday.com, was launched in 2001 with the aim of re-energising IWD as an important platform following a recognised move away from the support of feminist ideals. The website also adopts an annual theme which it hopes will provide a framework and direction for annual IWD activities. This year’s theme is “#BeBoldForChange”.

IWD is now celebrated in more than 100 countries. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers. IWD is also recognised as an official holiday in many countries including Afganistan, Cambodia, China (for women only), Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam and Zambia.

What has happened since

There has been positive progress towards gender parity in educational attainment, health, economic opportunities and political empowerment.

However, further progress still needs to be made. Women are not paid equally to that of their male counterparts. The World Economic Forum recorded an economic gender gap of 59 per cent in 2016, the largest than at any point since 2008, and progress towards economic parity has started to slow. Women continue to face inequality in education and health and continue to be subjected to higher levels of violence than men.

IWD is an opportunity to build on the progress that has been made towards gender parity and to celebrate the achievements of women on a global scale. This year #BeBoldForChange

Kingsley Napley are proud to support the #BeBoldForChange campaign and are publishing a series of blogs to promote discussion around gender parity and the continued relevance of International Women’s Day.

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