International Women’s Day on 8th March each year has become widely known since the United Nations (UN) started celebrating the movement in the 1970s. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly asked member states to officially proclaim 8th March as a UN Day dedicated to women’s rights and world peace. Since 1996, the UN developed a theme for International Women’s Day each year, from ‘Women Uniting for Peace’ to ‘Equality for Women is Progress for All’.
Given the UN’s strong support of women’s issues centring on International Women’s Day on 8th March each year, it would be easy to think the UN is responsible for the day and the movement. In fact, International Women’s Day has a much longer history than this. The first Women’s Day was held in February 1909 in New York, organised by the Socialist Party of America. The following year, it was decided Women’s Day should be an annual event to promote equal rights for women. A few years later, the date was changed to 8th March. It quickly captured the imagination of women around the world. In fact, an International Women’s Day march in Russia on 8th March 1917 sparked the Russian Revolution which led to the Tsar being overthrown.
Although the movement was originally rooted in socialist politics, the ideas behind it transcended politics – a message that gained traction when the UN got involved in 1975. Since then, countries across the world have embraced International Women’s Day and have marked the occasion in many ways, using it to continue to push women’s rights forward. It’s something governments, businesses and individuals have become committed to raising awareness about. For example, in 2016, Air India marked the occasion by operating the world’s longest non-stop flight where the entire flight operations were handled by women.
In some countries including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Cuba, Mongolia, Nepal and Vietnam, 8th March is even a national holiday. In countries including Croatia, Bulgaria and Chile, it’s customary for men to give female relatives and colleagues flowers and gifts on 8th March. In Italy, men tend to give yellow mimosa flowers to women, chosen to be the symbol of International Women’s Day in the country by a communist politician in the 1940s.
For International Women’s Day in 2019, the theme is #BalanceforBetter which is all about achieving a better gender balance in the world.