Celebrating International Women’s Day

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.

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The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen. www.ft.com/womenblog

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.