International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
Marked annually on March 8th, IWD is one of the most important days of the year to:
- celebrate women’s achievements
- raise awareness about women’s equality
- lobby for accelerated gender parity
- fundraise for female-focused charities
The campaign theme for 2021 is ‘Choose To Challenge’.
The colours symbolising IWD are purple, green and white. Purple signifies justice and dignity. Green symbolizes hope. White represents purity, albeit a controversial concept. The colours originated from the Women’s Social and Political Union in the United Kingdom in 1908.
The Women’s Day movement was born in 1848.
Indignant over women being barred from speaking at an anti-slavery convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott congregated a few hundred people at their nation’s first women’s rights convention in New York. Together they demand civil, social, political and religious rights for women in a Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.
60 years later in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.
In accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman’s Day (NWD) was observed across the United States of America on February 28. Women continued to celebrate NWD on the last Sunday of February until 1913.
In 1910, at the second International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen, IWD was born. Clara Zetkin, leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, tabled the idea. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, unanimously approved the proposal, resulting in IWD.
The United Nations (UN) first celebrated IWD in 1975. In December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.
The UN announced their first annual theme of “Celebrating the past, Planning for the Future” in 1996. Since, each year a campaign theme is selected.
Coming of Age
The 100-year IWD centenary was held in 2011. In the United States of America, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 2011 to be “Women’s History Month”. He called on Americans to mark IWD by reflecting on “the extraordinary accomplishments of women” in shaping their country’s history.
Australia’s first International Women’s Day was held in 1928 in Sydney. Organised by the Militant Women’s Movement, women called for equal pay for equal work, an 8-hour working day for shop girls and paid leave. The next year the event spread to Brisbane. By 1931 annual marches were launched in both Sydney and Melbourne, which continue to be held today.
In Jamaica the first IWD was celebrated in March 1978. It was jointly coordinated by the People’s National Party Women’s Movement and the Committee of Women for Progress. In 1979, both groups made a formal call to the Government for maternity leave with pay to be placed on the books for all working women. This call received wide-scale support from a large number of women’s organisations headed by the Young Women Christian Association. One of the major achievements during this period was that the Governor General signed the Maternity Leave Act on December 31, 1979.
Did You Know?
- IWD, celebrated on March 8th is strongly linked to the women’s movements during the Russian Revolution of 1917.
- New Zealand was the first self-governing nation to allow women to vote.
- In 1920 the Egyptian Society of Physicians went against tradition by declaring the negative effects of female genital mutilation.
After so many years since inception – Do we still need an IWD?
The answer is – Yes! There’s no place for complacency. According to the World Economic Forum, sadly none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children. Gender parity will not be attained for almost a century.
There is urgent work to be done – and we can all play a part.
So make a difference, think globally and act locally!
Make everyday IWD.
Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.