March 8 is International Women’s Day, whose purpose is to celebrate women’s achievements and contributions to society, while reminding us – as reported by the United Nations – that no country in the world has so far achieved full gender parity.
IWD has its origins in Germany, when in 1910 Clara Zetkin, leader of the ‘women’s office’ for the country’s Social Democratic Party, proposed an annual women’s day to raise awareness of equality issues. The idea was adopted, and the first IWD was held the following year.
It grew in popularity, inspired by ideals around women’s right to work, be educated, vote and hold public office. In 1917 Russian women textile workers started a strike protesting “for bread and peace”, which led to the abdication of the tsar and helped bring about the Russian revolution. The date of the strike was February 23 on the Julian calendar – then still in use in Russia – or March 8 in the Gregorian calendar.
IWD was given official recognition by the UN in 1975, and is now marked by a national holiday in a host of countries including China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Vietnam.
And although its origins are political, in some countries it is a sort of hybrid between Mother’s Day and St Valentine’s Day. In Italy, for example, it is traditional to give presents of mimosa and chocolates.
In the developed world, IWD continues to provide a rallying point for action against ongoing inequalities in representation in public and corporate life.
At the same time, it is important not to forget that many women in the world continue to be denied basic access to education, opportunity, health and wealth, while others are subject to violence.
As we celebrate the achievements and contributions of women on what is IWD’s 100th anniversary it is worth remembering how far we have to go.