International Women’s Day is a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements – social, economic, cultural and political – while calling for gender equality. The day first emerged from the activities of labor movements at the turn of the 20th century in North America and across Europe.
It’s difficult to say exactly when International Women’s Day officially began; its roots can be traced back to the early 1900’s. The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on 28 February 1909. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike where 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours.
Led by German campaigner and socialist Clara Zetkin, the idea to turn the day into an international movement advocating universal suffrage was established at the International Conference of Working Women in 1910. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries.
As a result of the Copenhagen initiative, International Women’s Day was marked for the first time on 19 March 1911. In Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded women’s rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.
International Women’s Day also became a mechanism for protesting World War I. As part of the peace movement, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February. Elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8 March of the following year, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with other activists.
After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. The day was then predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations.
Check out our interview with Simply Be’s Marketing Director to celebrate International Women’s Day here