International Women’s Day: The Powerful Story Behind This 109-Year-Old Tradition
What began as a small movement in 1908 has become a global holiday dedicated to celebrating the strong women in our communities.
In 1908, 15,000 brave women marched through the streets of New York City asking for voting rights and equal pay for women. Little did they know that their fight for equality would later inspire a global holiday that is now celebrated in more than 100 countries around the world. This year, International Women’s Day is Monday, March 8, right in the middle of Women’s History Month. It’s a day dedicated to celebrating the inspiring women in our own communities and around the world.
There’s no wrong way to celebrate this holiday: Take inspiration from some of history’s most powerful women and spend the day getting involved with a cause you care about or simply call your girlfriends to encourage them. And of course, learn about the history of the holiday and the women who helped create it.
The History of International Women’s Day
Two years after the women gathered to demand voting rights and equal pay in New York City, an International Conference of Working Women was held in Denmark, where more than 100 women from 17 countries gathered to discuss those rights. During that conference, German leader Clara Zetkin proposed that countries across the globe implement an international holiday to celebrate women and escalate their demands for equality. The proposal was passed unanimously and International Women’s Day was born.
The first official International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. By 1975, all 134 countries that were part of the United Nations had recognized the holiday.
When the United States Congress passed an official Women’s History Month in 1987, they chose the month of March so the celebrations would overlap.
This Year’s Theme
In 1996, the United Nations decided to adopt a theme for each International Women’s Day that would highlight a cause impacting women across the world. This year’s theme is #EachforEqual, which calls for gender equality across the globe. According to the IWD organization, it’s every woman’s responsibility to get involved with this mission.
“We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women's achievements,” their website says. “Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender-equal world.”
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women and a South African United Nations official, released an open letter to women around the world to explain this year's theme and call for worldwide activism. "2020 is a massive year for gender equality. And the benefits of gender equality are not just for women and girls, but for everyone whose lives will be changed by a fairer world that leaves no one behind," she wrote. She goes on to point out that "Even though there has been progress, no country has achieved gender equality. Challenges remain for all countries, although many of them are not insurmountable."
She closes the statement by encouraging all of us to find ways to advance opportunities for women in our own communities.
How to Celebrate
Whether you use it to participate in a local Women's Day celebration or organize a seminar to celebrate the work of strong women within your workplace, spend March 8 celebrating the influential ladies in your life.
If organizing a big event or participating in a march isn't your thing, you can still celebrate at home by spending quality time with your female family members or reading a book written by a female author.