Today is March 8, International Women's Day, a day that has been celebrated around the world for more than a century. This year's theme is a call to action for every man, woman and child in the world to stand together to "Break the Bias" against women in all circumstances and in all walks of life. Celebrating women's achievements and increasing visibility, while calling out inequality, is key.
- Building workplaces where women thrive
- Elevating visibility of women creatives
- Improving equality for women in tech
- Forging women's empowerment worldwide
- Celebrating the women forging change
- Empowering women's choices in health
More Than 100 Years of History
The first International Women's Day (IWD) gathering took place in 1911, but the event had been brewing for a few years. In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City, demanding shorter work hours, better pay and voting rights (the last of which they wouldn't get for another 12 years). One year later, on Feb. 28, 1909, women across the U.S. began commemorating National Woman's Day (NWD), and in 1910, female representatives from around the globe united in Copenhagen at the second International Conference of Working Women to make things more official.
Clara Zetkin, leader of the "Women's Office" for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, proposed to the 100 attendees from 17 countries that women all over the world should unite in global solidarity each year on the same day to push for equality. The next year, International Women's Day celebrations took place for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 18, with more than a million women and men attending rallies, and demanding equal rights.
Less than a week after the hopeful events, however, a historic tragedy took place in New York City. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City killed more than 140 working women, most of whom were young Italian and Jewish immigrants. The devastating event served as a harsh reality check of current labor conditions for women, and it became a focal point of subsequent IWD events in the coming years. As World War I tore through Europe three years later, women banded together, using the IWD movement as a means to protest for peace. Russia's first IWD observance took place on the last Sunday of February that year, and the celebration spread to other countries in Europe the following year.
Russian women were at the forefront of turning IWD into a political platform; on the first day of the Russian Revolution in 1917, tens of thousands of women took to the streets of the capital, in response to the death of more than 2 million soldiers. Participants flooded public spaces for four days, calling for change and rallying against food shortages — the overwhelming movement forced the czar to abdicate, and pushed the provisional government to grant women the right to vote. The strike began on Feb. 24, according to the Julian calendar, which Russia used at the time. But according to the Gregorian calendar, which most of the world relies on today, those historic events kicked off on March 8.
A United Nations Proclamation
Fast-forward several decades, and IWD hit another major milestone. In 1975, the event was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations, and two years later, 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." In 1996, the U.N. began assigning an annual theme to each IWD, starting off with "Celebrating the past, Planning for the Future." As the world moved into a new millenium, IWD went digital in 2001 with the launch of internationalwomensday.com, which continues to partner with corporations and organizations to promote and offer education around gender equality. To mark IWD's 100th birthday in 2011, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 2011 to be "Women's History Month," and called on Americans to reflect on "the extraordinary accomplishments of women" who helped shape the country's history.
So where does that leave us today? Sure, many are still misinformed about the origins of IWD and the massive impact it's had on social justice, politics, labor, wages and more, but many more recognize its unparalleled importance. According to internationalwomensday.com, IWD is considered an official holiday in numerous countries, including Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia. In some countries, it's considered the equivalent of Mother's Day, and in others, women and men are still silently and secretly honoring its significance. Wherever you are, consider dedicating the day to the powerful lineage of women who made modern life possible and those who continue to push for change.
International Women's Day 2022: #BreakTheBias
And in 2022, the #BreakTheBias theme calls for action. If you want to participate this year, here is the call to action from the International Women's Day website:
Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead. Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough, action is needed to level the playing field.
Are you in? Will you actively call out gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping each time you see it?
Will you help break the bias?
Cross your arms to show solidarity.
Strike the IWD 2022 pose and share your #BreakTheBias image, video, resources, presentation or articles on social media using #IWD2022 #BreakTheBias to encourage further people to commit to helping forge an inclusive world.
Make sure you have registered in the IWD Community here to access IWD resources.
Originally Published: Mar 6, 2019