International Women's Day

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International Women's Day
Frauentag 1914 Heraus mit dem Frauenwahlrecht.jpg
German poster for International Women's Day, March 8, 1914. [lower-alpha 1] This poster was banned in the German Empire. [2]
Observed byWorldwide
  • Civil awareness day
  • Women and girls day
  • Anti-sexism day
  • Anti-Discrimination Day
Date March 8
Next timeMarch 8, 2021 (2021-03-08)
Related to

International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated on the 8th of March every year around the world. [3] It is a focal point in the movement for women's rights.


After the Socialist Party of America organized a Women's Day in New York City on February 28, 1909, German delegates Clara Zetkin, Käte Duncker and others proposed at the 1910 International Socialist Woman's Conference that "a special Women's Day" be organized annually. [4] After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. [5] The day was then predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted by the feminist movement in about 1967. The United Nations began celebrating the day in 1977. [6]

Commemoration of International Women's Day today ranges from being a public holiday in some countries to being largely ignored elsewhere. [7] In some places, it is a day of protest; in others, it is a day that celebrates womanhood. [8]


Women's demonstration for bread and peace - March 8, 1917, Petrograd, Russia Nonap - Petrograd, 1917.03.08.jpg
Women's demonstration for bread and peace – March 8, 1917, Petrograd, Russia
Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg in January 1910 Zetkin luxemburg1910.jpg
Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg in January 1910
Stamp of USSR 1368.jpg
1947 CPA 1140 cancelled.jpg
Soviet postage stamps
British poster for Women's Day March 1974 7 Demands (1974).jpg
British poster for Women's Day March 1974
Poster for Women's Day March in London, 1975 Women's Day March (1975).jpg
Poster for Women's Day March in London, 1975

The earliest Women's Day observance, called "National Woman's Day," [9] was held on February 28, 1909, in New York City, organized by the Socialist Party of America [10] at the suggestion of activist Theresa Malkiel. [11] There have been claims that the day was commemorating a protest by women garment workers in New York on March 8, 1857, but researchers Kandel and Picq have described this as a myth created to "detach International Women's Day from its Soviet history in order to give it a more international origin". [12] [13] [14]

In August 1910, an International Socialist Women's Conference was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen, Denmark. [15] Inspired in part by the American socialists, German delegates Clara Zetkin, Käte Duncker and others proposed the establishment of an annual "Women's Day", although no date was specified at that conference. [4] [12] [16] Delegates (100 women from 17 countries) agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote equal rights including suffrage for women. [17]

The following year on March 19, 1911, IWD (international women's day) was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. [10] In the Austro-Hungarian Empire alone, there were 300 demonstrations. [12] In Vienna, women paraded on the Ringstrasse and carried banners honouring the martyrs of the Paris Commune. [12] Women demanded that they be given the right to vote and to hold public office. They also protested against employment sex discrimination. [3]

The Americans continued to celebrate National Women's Day on the last Sunday in February. [12]

Female members of the Australian Builders Labourers Federation march on International Women's Day 1975 in Sydney. NSW Builders Labourers march on IWD 1975.jpg
Female members of the Australian Builders Labourers Federation march on International Women's Day 1975 in Sydney.

In 1913 Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Saturday in February (by the Julian calendar then used in Russia). [18]

In 1914, International Women's Day was held on March 8 in Germany, possibly because that day was a Sunday, and now it is always held on March 8 in all countries. [18] The 1914 observance of the Day in Germany was dedicated to women's right to vote, which German women did not win until 1918. [18] [19]

In London there was a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women's suffrage on March 8, 1914. Activist Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square. [20]

On March 8, 1917, on the Gregorian calendar, in the capital of the Russian Empire, Petrograd, women textile workers began a demonstration, covering the whole city. This marked the beginning of the February Revolution, which alongside the October Revolution made up the Russian Revolution. [3] [21] Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day for "Bread and Peace" – demanding the end of World War I, an end to Russian food shortages, and the end of czarism. [18] Revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky wrote, "23 February (8th March) was International Woman's Day and meetings and actions were foreseen. But we did not imagine that this 'Women's Day' would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in the morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike... all went out into the streets." [18] Seven days later, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. [10]

Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai and Vladimir Lenin made it an official holiday in the Soviet Union,[ citation needed ] but it was a working day until 1965. On May 8, 1965, by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women's Day was declared a non-working day in the USSR "in commemoration of the outstanding merits of Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Fatherland during the Great Patriotic War, in their heroism and selflessness at the front and in the rear, and also marking the great contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples, and the struggle for peace. But still, women's day must be celebrated as are other holidays."

After its official adoption in Soviet Russia following the Revolution in 1917, the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist countries and by the communist movement worldwide. Communist leader Dolores Ibárruri led a women's march in Madrid in 1936 on the eve of the Spanish Civil War. [12]

It was commemorated by the communists in China from 1922. [12] In 1927, in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, there was a march of 25,000 women and male supporters, including representatives of the Kuomintang, the YWCA, and labor organizations. [22] After the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, the State Council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off. [23]

The day remained predominantly a communist holiday until about 1967 when it was taken up by second-wave feminists. [12] The day re-emerged as a day of activism, being sometimes known in Europe as the "Women's International Day of Struggle". In the 1970s and 1980s, women's groups were joined by leftists and labor organizations in calling for equal pay, equal economic opportunity, equal legal rights, reproductive rights, subsidized child care, and the prevention of violence against women. [24] [25]

The United Nations began celebrating International Women's Day in the International Women's Year, 1975. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women's rights and world peace. [26]

International Women's Day sparked violence in Tehran, Iran on March 4, 2007, when police beat hundreds of men and women who were planning a rally. (A previous rally for the occasion was held in Tehran in 2003.) [27] Police arrested dozens of women and some were released after several days of solitary confinement and interrogation. [28] Shadi Sadr, Mahbubeh Abbasgholizadeh and several more community activists were released on March 19, 2007, ending a fifteen-day hunger strike. [29]

In the twenty–first century, in the West, the day was increasingly sponsored by major corporations and used to promote feel–good messages, rather than radical social reforms. [30] In 2009, the British marketing firm, Aurora Ventures, set up a "International Women's Day" website with corporate sponsorship. [31] [32] The website began to promote hashtags as themes for the day, which became used internationally. [33] The day was commemorated by business breakfasts and social media communications that were reminiscent of Mother's Day greetings. [30] [24]

Yearly commemorations

IWD 2010

On the occasion of 2010 International Women's Day the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) drew attention to the hardships displaced women endure. The displacement of populations is one of the gravest consequences of today's armed conflicts. It affects women in a host of ways. [34]

Women on the street celebrating International Women's Day in Cameroon GedWomenDay.JPG
Women on the street celebrating International Women's Day in Cameroon
8M 2018 in Pamplona 2018ko martxoak 8, greba feminista Irunean - Goizeko irudiak 18.jpg
8M 2018 in Pamplona
8M 2019 in Spain Concentracion del Sindicato de Estudiantes por la Huelga Feminista 8M 2019.jpg
8M 2019 in Spain
2020 Aurat March (Women's March) in Pakistan on International Women's Day Marchers holding placards during Aurat March 2020.jpg
2020 Aurat March (Women's March) in Pakistan on International Women's Day
Farhan Wilayat Butt (Pakistani Philanthropist and Social Activist) was present in Women's March 2020 outside Lahore Press Club, Pakistan to support women's rights on International Women's Day Farhan Wilayat (Philanthropist and Social Activist) during Aurat March 2020.jpg
Farhan Wilayat Butt (Pakistani Philanthropist and Social Activist) was present in Women's March 2020 outside Lahore Press Club, Pakistan to support women's rights on International Women's Day

IWD 2011

Though the celebration in the West was low-key, events took place in more than 100 countries [7] on March 8, 2011, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. [35] In the United States, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 2011 to be "Women's History Month", calling Americans to mark IWD by reflecting on "the extraordinary accomplishments of women" in shaping the country's history. [7] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the "100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges", on the eve of IWD. [36] In the run-up to 2011 International Women's Day, the Red Cross called on States and other entities not to relent in their efforts to prevent rape and other forms of sexual violence that harm the lives and dignity of countless women in conflict zones around the world every year. [37]

Australia issued an IWD 100th anniversary commemorative 20-cent coin.

In Egypt, in Tahrir Square, Cairo, hundreds of men came out not to support, but to harass the women who came out to stand up for their rights as the police and military stood by watching, doing nothing to stop the crowds of men. [38]

IWD 2012

Oxfam America invited people to celebrate inspiring women in their lives by sending a free International Women's Day e-Card or honoring a woman whose efforts had made a difference in the fight against hunger and poverty with Oxfam's International Women's Day award. [39]

On the occasion of International Women's Day 2012, the ICRC called for more action to help the mothers and wives of people who have gone missing during armed conflict. The vast majority of people who go missing in connection with conflict are men. As well as the anguish of not knowing what has happened to the missing husband or son, many of these women face economic and practical difficulties. The ICRC underlined the duty of parties to this conflict to search for the missing and provide information to the families. [40]

IWD 2013

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) drew attention to the plight of women in prison. [41]

IWD 2014

American singer Beyoncé also posted an International Women's Day video to her YouTube account. Throughout the video, her song "***Flawless" plays, which includes a portion of the "We Should All Be Feminists" speech given by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. [42]

IWD 2015

Governments and activists around the world commemorated the 20th anniversary year of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, an historic roadmap that set the agenda for realizing women's rights. [43]

IWD 2016

The President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee said: "On the occasion of International Women's Day, I extend warm greetings and good wishes to the women of India and thank them for their contributions over the years in the building of our nation." [44] The ministry of women and child development announced the setting up of four more one-stop crisis centers on March 8, in addition to the eight already functioning across the country. [45] Ahead of Women's Day, the national carrier Air India operated what it claimed to be the world's longest non-stop flight where the entire flight operations were handled by women, as part of International Women's Day celebrations. The flight, from Delhi to San Francisco, covered a distance of around 14,500 kilometers in around 17 hours. [46]

IWD 2017

In a message in support of International Women's Day, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres commented on how women's rights were being "reduced, restricted and reversed". With men still in leadership positions and a widening economic gender gap, he called for change "by empowering women at all levels, enabling their voices to be heard and giving them control over their own lives and over the future of our world". [47]

IWD 2019

The UN theme for International Women's Day was: 'Think equal, build smart, innovate for change'. The focus of the theme was on innovative ways in which to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure. [48]

The federal state of Berlin marked International Women's Day as a public holiday for the first time.

IWD 2020

8M 2020 in Spain Reivindicaciones 8M (49638492866).jpg
8M 2020 in Spain

The UN theme for International Women's Day was: 'I am Generation Equality': Realizing Women's Rights'. [49] Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, street marches occurred in London, Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Moscow and other European cities. [50] [51] [52] [53] The Aurat March in Islamabad was marred by attacks from stone throwers, after a failed attempt to have it banned as un-Islamic. In Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, police detained dozens of marchers shortly after masked men reportedly attacked the march. [50]

Around the world

Official holiday
Holiday for women
Non-official holiday International Women's Day celebration.png
  Official holiday
  Holiday for women
  Non-official holiday
Soviet poster: "8th of March is the day of rebellion of the working women against kitchen slavery. Down with the oppression and narrow-mindedness of household work!"

The day is an official holiday in Afghanistan, [54] Angola, Armenia, [55] Azerbaijan, [56] [57] Belarus, [58] Burkina Faso, [59] Cambodia, [60] China (for women only), [61] Cuba, [62] Georgia, [63] Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, [64] Kyrgyzstan, [65] Laos, [66] Madagascar (for women only), [67] Moldova, [68] Mongolia, [69] Nepal, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, [70] Uzbekistan, [71] Vietnam, [72] and Zambia. [73]

In some countries, such as Cameroon, [74] Croatia, [75] Romania, [76] Bosnia and Herzegovina, [77] Bulgaria [78] and Chile, [79] the day is not a public holiday, but is widely observed nonetheless. On this day it is customary for men to give the women in their lives – friends, mothers, wives, girlfriends, daughters, colleagues, etc. – flowers and small gifts (although to many this seems cloyingly old-fashioned and rather to miss the point). In some countries (such as Bulgaria and Romania) it is also observed as an equivalent of Mother's Day, where children also give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers. [76] In Russia, the day has lost all political context through the time, becoming simply a day to honor women and feminine beauty. [80]

In the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, huge Soviet-style celebrations were held annually. After the fall of Communism, the holiday, generally considered to be one of the major symbols of the old regime, fell into obscurity. International Women's Day was re-established as an official "important day" by the Parliament of the Czech Republic in 2004 [81] on the proposal of the Social Democrats and Communists. This has provoked some controversy as a large part of the public as well as the political right see the holiday as a relic of the nation's Communist past. [81]

Yellow mimosa is the symbol of IWD in Italy. Mimosa2007.JPG
Yellow mimosa is the symbol of IWD in Italy.

The day is widely celebrated in France, as Journée internationale des femmes. To celebrate the day in Italy, men give yellow mimosas to women. [82] [83] Communist politician Teresa Mattei chose the mimosa in 1946 as the symbol of IWD in Italy because she felt that the French symbols of the day, violets and lily-of-the-valley, were too scarce and expensive to be used effectively in Italy. [84]

In the United States, actress and human rights activist Beata Pozniak worked with the Mayor of Los Angeles and the Governor of California to lobby members of the US Congress to propose official recognition of the holiday. In February 1994, by Beata Pozniak suggestion, the H. J. Res. 316 was introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters, along with 79 cosponsors, in an attempt to officially recognize March 8 of that year as International Women's Day. The bill was subsequently referred to, and remained in, the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service. No vote of either house of Congress was achieved on this piece of legislation. [85]

As of 2019, International Women's Day will also be celebrated as a public holiday in the federal state of Berlin, Germany [86]

In Pakistan, the Aurat March has challenged misogyny since 2018. [87]

Official UN themes

YearUN Theme [88]
1996Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future
1997Women and the Peace Table
1998Women and Human Rights
1999World Free of Violence Against Women
2000Women Uniting for Peace
2001Women and Peace: Women Managing Conflicts
2002Afghan Women Today: Realities and Opportunities
2003Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals
2004Women and HIV/AIDS
2005Gender Equality Beyond 2005; Building a More Secure Future
2006Women in Decision-making
2007Ending Impunity for Violence Against Women and Girls
2008Investing in Women and Girls
2009Women and Men United to End Violence Against Women and Girls
2010Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All
2011Equal Access to Education, Training, and Science and Technology: Pathway to Decent Work for Women
2012Empower Rural Women, End Poverty and Hunger
2013A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence Against Women
2014Equality for Women is Progress for All
2015Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!
2016Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality
2017Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030
2018Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women's lives
2019Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change
2020"I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights ”

See also

Other holidays honoring women


  1. English : "Give Us Women's Suffrage. Women's Day, March 8, 1914. Until now, prejudice and reactionary attitudes have denied full civic rights to women, who as workers, mothers, and citizens wholly fulfill their duty, who must pay their taxes to the state as well as the municipality. Fighting for this natural human right must be the firm, unwavering intention of every woman, every female worker. In this, no pause for rest, no respite is allowed. Come all, you women and girls, to the 9th public women's assembly on Sunday, March 8, 1915, at 3 pm." [1]

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Further reading