International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8 every year. Originally called International Working Women’s Day, IWD commemorates the struggle for women’s rights.
History of IWD
On 8 March 1917 in Petrograd (capital of the Russian Empire) thousands of women textile workers protested across the city. This was the beginning of the Russian Revolution. Seven days later, the Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II, abdicated and the provisional government granted women the right to vote. The women’s march was a crucial point in Russian history – and, consequently, world history – as it led to the toppling of monarchy and shook the global political order.
The earliest Women’s Day observance was held on 28 February 1909 in New York where women were protesting against dire working conditions. In 1917, March 8 was declared a national holiday in Russia. IWD was mainly celebrated in communist countries until 1975 when it was adopted by the United Nations. Even then, IWD was concentrated among labour movements around the world. It was not until the turn of the twentieth century that the day became a national observance.
- 1909 – The first “National Woman’s Day” was observed in the United States on 28 February. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions.
- 1910 – The Socialist International established a Women’s Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women’s rights and to build support for achieving universal suffrage for women. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance. This happened in Copenhagen, Denmark.
- 1911 – As a result of the Copenhagen initiative, IWD was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. More than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded women’s rights to work, universal suffrage, and an end to gender discrimination.
- 1913-1914 – IWD became a mechanism for protesting the First World War. As part of the peace movement, Russian women observed their first IWD on the last Sunday in February. Elsewhere in Europe, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with other activists.
- 1917 – Against the backdrop of the War, women in Russia again chose to protest and strike for “Bread and Peace” on the last Sunday in February (which fell on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar). This sparked a chain of events which precipitated into the February Revolution (first of the two Russian Revolutions in 1917).
- 1975 – The United Nations began celebrating IWD on 8 March.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 is “Be Bold for Change”. The campaign calls on people to work towards a more gender-inclusive world.
Over the years, IWD has assumed a global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.