You might have seen International Women's Day mentioned in the media or heard friends talking about it. But what is this day for? For more than a century people around the world have been marking March 8th as a special day for women.
1. How did it start?
Clara Zetkin founded International Women's Day in 1910 International Women's Day, also known as IWD for short, grew out of the labor movement to become an annual event recognized by the United Nations. The seeds were planted in 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York demanding shorter working hours, better pay, and the right to vote. A year later, the Socialist Party of America declared the first National Woman's Day.
It was Clara Zetkin, a communist activist and advocate for women's rights, who suggested the creation of an international day. She put her idea to an International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen in 1910 - and the 100 women there, from 17 countries, agreed to it unanimously. International Women's Day was first celebrated in 1911, in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. The centenary was celebrated in 2011, so this year we're technically celebrating the 111th. Things were made official in 1975 when the United Nations started celebrating the day. The first theme adopted (in 1996) was "Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future". International Women's Day has become a date to celebrate how far women have come in society, politics, and economics, while the political roots of the day mean strikes and protests are organized to raise awareness of continued inequality.
2. Why 8 March?
Clara's idea for International Women's Day had no fixed date. It wasn't formalized until a wartime strike in 1917 when Russian women demanded "bread and peace"; four days into the strike the tsar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. The strikes began on 8 March and this became the date that International Women's Day is celebrated.
We have seen a significant step back in the global fight for women's rights over the past year. The resurgence of the Taliban in August changed the lives of millions of Afghan women - girls were banned from receiving secondary education, the ministry for women's affairs in the country was disbanded, and many women were told not to return to work.
In the UK, the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer reignited debates around women's safety. The coronavirus pandemic also continues to have an impact on women's rights. According to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2021, the time needed to close the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.
3. Progress made but progress needed
A 2021 study by UN Women based on 13 countries showed that almost one in two women (45%) reported that they or a woman they know experienced a form of violence during the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes non-physical abuse, with verbal abuse and the denial of basic resources being the most commonly reported. Despite concerns over coronavirus, marches took place around the world for IWD 2021. In Mexico, women's groups turned metal fencing, erected to protect the National Palace, into an impromptu memorial for the victims of femicides. Meanwhile, women in Poland held protests across the country following the introduction of a near-total ban on abortion in January 2021.