International Women’s Day (IWD) falls on 8 March every year.
This year, the theme for IWD is ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World,’ which celebrates the tremendous efforts of women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and to highlight the gaps that remain.
Women are still under-represented in public life and decision-making, as revealed in the UN Secretary-General’s recent report. Women are heads of state or government in only 22 countries, and only 24.9% of national parliamentarians are women. At the current rate of progress, gender equality among heads of government will take another 130 years.
This year, UN Women is convening a Generation Equality Forum, co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, to push for transformative and lasting change for generations to come. The event will be held on a virtual platform in Mexico City from 29 – 31 March.
International Women’s Day has occurred for well over a century since the early 1900’s – a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialised world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.
In 1908, great unrest and critical debate were occurring amongst women. Women’s oppression and inequality were spurring women to be more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Then in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.
In 1909, in accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman’s Day (NWD) was observed across the US on 28 February. Women continued to celebrate NWD on the last Sunday of February until 1913.
In 1910, a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin, the leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany came up with the idea of an IWD. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs – and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament – greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval and thus started the annual International Women’s Day.
In 1911, following the decision agreed in Copenhagen, Denmark, International Women’s Day was honoured for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and to end discrimination. However, less than a week later on 25 March, the tragic ‘Triangle Fire’ in New York City took the lives of over 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the US that became a focus of subsequent International Women’s Day events.
On 1913–14, on the eve of World War I campaigning for peace, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on 23 February, the last Sunday in February. Following discussions, IWD was agreed to be marked annually on 8 March that translated in the widely adopted Gregorian calendar from 23 February – and this day has remained the global date for International Women’s Day ever since. In 1914, more women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express women’s solidarity. For example, in London, there was a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage on 8 March 1914. Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak at Trafalgar Square.
In 1917, on the last Sunday of February, Russian women began a strike for ‘bread and peace’ in response to the death of over two million Russian soldiers in World War 1. Opposed by political leaders, the women continued to strike until four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional government granted women the right to vote. The date the women’s strike commenced was 23 February on the Julian calendar, which was then in use in Russia. This day on the Gregorian calendar was 8 March.
International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time by the UN in 1975. Then in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by member states, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.
In 1996, the UN announced their first annual theme: ‘Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future’, which was followed in 1997 with ‘Women at the Peace Table’; in 1998 with ‘Women and Human Rights’; in 1999 with ‘World Free of Violence Against Women’, and so on, each year following a different theme.
In 2000, by the new millennium, there was little activity occurring for IWD in most countries. The world had moved on and feminism wasn’t popular. Something was needed to re-ignite IWD and to raise awareness amongst the masses about gender parity, which still had not been achieved.
In 2001, the internationalwomensday.com platform was launched with the specific purpose of re-igniting the day, celebrating and making visible the achievements of women while continuing the call for accelerating gender parity. The website, which provides useful guidance and resources, adopts an annual campaign theme that is globally relevant.
The IWD website also serves as a significant vehicle for charities. The IWD website’s Charities of Choice are the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) since 2007, and Catalyst Inc, the global working women’s organisation since 2017.
This year sees the charitable fundraising of IWD opened up more widely to further registered charities around the world. Learn more about the timeline of IWD here. For more information, visit internationalwomensday.com
Purple, green and white are the colours of International Women’s Day. Purple signifies justice and dignity. Green symbolises hope. White represents purity, albeit a controversial concept. The colours originated from the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in the UK in 1908.
Roots for Women
Roots Hair & Beauty, one of Doha’s leading hairdressers, has organised a platform, Roots for Women, a community for women to help and support one another in any area of their lives. The platform helps women connect with one another, find or provide their foundation of power, grace, wisdom, justice, creativity and hope, and reach their goals – whether in working to achieve their dreams, inspiring others or bringing positivity and optimism into each other’s lives.
If you are new in Doha and are looking for new friends or just need some love and support, then Roots for Women is for you.
Find them on Instagram and Facebook @rootsforwomen or visit rootsforwomen.com
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