It is time to celebrate International Women’s Day once more. It feels odd to celebrate a day that emerged from protest when maybe we should still be rising up and seeking change. For more than a century, the world has stopped on March 8th to mark this day of the woman. How much do you know? Here we offer some history and some insight into the events taking place this year.
Marking the day of conception of International Women’s Day (IWD) is as challenging as working out if it is a protest movement or a celebration. Some might say that the day was born at the moment it was recognized as an annual event by the United Nations.
Yet, the seeds of the day can be traced to 1908 when 15000 women marched through the streets of New York demanding shorter worker hours, the right to vote, and better pay. This event was sparked by the tragedy of the more than one hundred women who died in a fire caused by a criminal negligent boss. A year later, the Socialist Party of America declared the first National Women’s Day - and realistically, this is the moment it became an official date in the calendar.
In 1910, the idea to make the day international was introduced by a woman called Clara Zetkin. At the 1910 International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, she presented her idea and 100 women from 17 countries agreed to the proposition unanimously. The colors of IWD originate from the Women’s Social and Political Union in the UK in 1908. The purple signifies dignity and justice, while the green is hope and the white purity. While controversial, these colors call upon the origins of IWD as a political protest movement rather than a social celebration.
From 1911, it was celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany and the centenary was celebrated in 2011. However, it wasn’t made official until 1975 when the UN declared it as a day of celebration.
The day is celebrated officially on March 8th. However, there was no official date when it was proposed by Clara Zetkin. It was not until 1917 in Russia when there was a wartime strike. As a result of the women’s stand against the Tsar, he abdicated and the provisional government granted women the franchise. In the Julian calendar, this date was 23rd February but by the Gregorian calendar this was March 8th - and so that is when the day is celebrated.
In a world of equity and equality, it is essential to mention that there is an International Men’s Day. It is marked on 19th November. Strangely, it has only been marked from the 1990s and still, the UN does not recognize this as an official day. Yet, more than 80 countries across the world mark the day, including the UK.
In 2020, the theme for the day was “Better health for men and boys”. As a whole, the day celebrates the positive value that men bring to the world, families, and communities. The hope for this event is that positive role models will emerge. It is also hoped it will raise issues about men’s wellbeing.
As with everything in the world today, IWD has been limited to virtual events. The pandemic has meant that celebrations are limited to the internet.
It is a national holiday in Russia, and the sale of flowers doubles in the days leading up to IWD. In China, women are given half a day off work. Women in Italy are presented with mimosa blossom, and in the US there is usually a march. However, this is replaced by the virtual event calendar that can be found on the UN’s.
If you are looking to celebrate the theme for IWD this year, then you should consider Women in Leadership and how there can be an equal future in a COVID-19 world. The aim is for diversity in culture and context, as well as gender - something that Kamala Harris has exemplified.
UN Women revealed that the pandemic could wipe out 25 years of progress in gender equality. Women are now doing more in the home than ever before and taking on the caring role in the home. In some cities around the world marches still took place in 2020 on International Women’s Day. However, these were subject to oppression and violence.
In short, while any sort of day that emphasizes differences can cause disquiet, highlighting the continued need for equality and equity of opportunity is still necessary.