What Is International Women’s Day, & Why Do We Celebrate It on March 8?

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Maybe you’ve seen the hashtag on social media posts. Perhaps you heard a speech referencing it. You’re likely familiar — at least on a surface level — with International Women’s Day. You may be less familiar, though, with what the special occasion stands for and why it’s held each year on March 8. In short, it’s exactly as it seems… a day devoted to women everywhere.

More: 28 Ways to Celebrate International Women’s Day

Of course, that’s a simplified definition. International Women’s Day is a dynamic holiday dedicated to lifting up the social, economic, cultural and political accomplishments of women. It is also rooted in raising awareness of the issues women face across the spectrum and, accordingly, advocating for gender parity.

Considering the first International Women’s Day took place in February, you may be wondering why it’s now held on March 8. But before we get into that, let’s look back in time at the day’s humble beginnings.

On Feb. 28, 1908, roughly 15,000 women (largely garment workers) took to the streets of New York City to demand the rights and respect they were owed. They rallied for things like shorter work hours, pay equity and even suffrage. “It is true that a woman’s duty is centered in her home and motherhood… [but] home should mean the whole country, and not be confined to three or four rooms or a city or a state,” attendee Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of The Yellow Wallpaper, told the crowd. Hear! Hear!

More: The No-Brainer Way You Can Help Women’s Causes on International Women’s Day

The following year, women marched on the same day — albeit backed at that point by the Socialist Party of America. But by 1910, the momentum had truly gone global. At the second International Conference of Working Women, held in Copenhagen that year, an activist by the name of Clara Zetkin proposed there should be a date of significance on which women from all over the world could celebrate (or demonstrate) in solidarity each year.

In an incredible showing, more than 100 women from 17 countries agreed unanimously to start International Women’s Day. Got goose bumps yet? If not, you will soon — the next year, in 1911, more than 1 million women and men in Europe marched and attended International Women’s Day rallies or demonstrations.

On March 8, 1917, in correlation with these rallies, women in Russia took a stand for Bread and Peace in the midst of war. When the czar abdicated four days later and women were granted suffrage, the demonstrators were given credit for sparking the Russian Revolution.

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It’s no surprise, then, that in 1975, the United Nations chose March 8 to serve as the official International Women’s Day holiday in honor of the women from Petrograd who set a revolution into motion.

Today, International Women’s Day is recognized in more than 100 countries all over the globe. Although women’s visibility has undoubtedly increased since International Women’s Day began, there is still much work to do. Recent movements such as #MeToo, Time’s Up and the Women’s March all highlight the need for International Women’s Day.

In fact, International Women’s Day has a theme each year, and in recent years, those themes speak directly to the importance of pushing forward. The IWD theme for 2016 was Pledge for Parity. In 2017, it was Be Bold for Change. And this year, in 2018, the IWD theme is more fitting than ever: Press for Progress.

You can be part of the greater collective good by contributing to gender-focused initiatives, being an outspoken advocate for gender parity and sending your #PressforProgress pics — women in action, unite! — to the warriors who spearhead International Women’s Day.

According to their website, the 2018 theme was sparked by the findings from the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report. The disheartening intel? Gender parity is over 200 years away. But momentum for gender parity grows every day (thanks to aforementioned movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up), making the present a perfect time to turn ideology into action.


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