Countries around the world celebrated International Women’s Day yesterday. The day is held on March 8 each year and is meant to celebrate the achievements made by women along with raising awareness of the discrimination that women continue to face because of their gender. This article provides a brief overview of the holiday’s history.
As TIME reports, on February 1908, thousands of female garment workers went on strike and marched throughout New York City to protest the working conditions, low wages, and sexual harassment they had to face. The strikes carried on for more than a year, and on February 28, 1909, the Socialist Party of America organized the first National Women’s Day in honour of the strikes.
Clara Zetkin, a German working women’s rights activist, pushed for the day to be celebrated across the world as a symbol for advocating universal suffrage. Her motion was passed at the International Conference of Working Women in 1910 and countries across Europe such as Germany, Austria, and Switzerland celebrated the holiday in 1911. It became an important day for protests against World War I.
While International Women’s Day was established in Russia in 1913, a significant demonstration occurred in 1917—a period when Russia was experiencing food shortages due to World War I. On February 28, which was the equivalent of March 8 in the Russian calendar, women workers marched to demand bread and an end to the war. Their demonstration sparked the Russian Revolution, as a week later, the Tsar of Russia abdicated. Russian women also gained the right to vote in 1917 as “a direct consequence” of their protests.
The day spread throughout socialist nations such as Cuba and China and was regarded “as an important day to recognize the contributions women have made to both family and the economy.” After the Second World War, the day’s significance transitioned from protesting war and worker rights to advocating women’s equality. The United Nations officially recognized the day in 1975 which was also International Women’s Year. Each year, the day has different themes assigned by the UN such as ‘Women and the Peace Table’ in 1997, ‘Equal Access to Education, Training, and Science and Technology: Pathway to Decent Work for Women’ in 2011, and ‘I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights’ this year. Some countries such as Afghanistan and Moldova have designated International Women’s Day as an official public holiday while other countries celebrate it unofficially. International Women’s Day has a rich history and should not only serve as a celebration of women’s rights, but also a reminder of the discrimination women continue to face.