International Women’s Day (IWD) is marked in many countries on 8th March each year.
International Women’s Day History
There are many roots of the current International Women’s Day (IWD).
IWD was marked for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March 2011, following a decision agreed at Copenhagen. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination.
However less than a week later on 25 March, the tragic ‘Triangle Fire’ in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent USA IWD events.
In 1913, on the eve of World War I campaigns for peace, Russian women observed their first IWD on the last Sunday in February, strking for “bread and peace”. In 1914 women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express women’s solidarity.
Since its birth in various socialist and justice movements, International Women’s Day has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across many countries. The United Nations designated 1975 ‘International Women’s Year’ and formalises IWD in 1977. Women’s organisations and governments around the world have also observed IWD annually on 8 March by holding large-scale events that honour women’s advancement while diligently reminding of the continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life.
IWD is now an official holiday in Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.
Many global corporations also have started to more actively support IWD by running their own internal events and through supporting external ones. For example, on 8 March search engine and media giant Google even changes its logo on its global search pages.
Some argue that this kind of ‘safe’ celebration of women undemines the roots of IWD as a movement for women’s rights, and such ‘honouring’ upholds patriarchial norms by putting women on a pedestal, rather than in the seats of power. How you view women’s aims for progress will depend on many issues, including how far you wish women to be included in the existing powerful strata of society, how far you wish to fight for changes to existing structures, and how vital you see the intersections of women’s lives with the realities of living in a world also divided by economics, race, dis/ability, class, sexuality, religion, geography.
Currently, feminist ideas are on the rise again with more people, including younger folk, recognising increasing instances where women’s lives are curtailed just by being women – or, as notions of gender binaries are dismantled, by not ‘fitting in’. Vital issues are being debated in many cultures, such as gendered violence, economic worth, significant access to education, and control over how bodies are clothed, represented and given access to reproductive health.
International Women’s Day remains a focus for many to work towards true gender equality, and to celebrate the many achievements of women.
United Nations Website https://www.un.org/en/observances/womens-day (English language version, plus links to other languages)
A USA-based, globally stretching, IWW website: www.internationalwomensday.com