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Explained: Why is International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8?

On March 9, 1911, International Women's Day was honoured for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

Written by Surbhi Gupta , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
March 8, 2021 5:00:20 pm
International Women's DayA woman places a flower on a perimeter fence set up in front of the National Palace in preparation for the International Women's Day demonstration, in Mexico City, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo)

The concept of International Women’s Day emerged in the early 1900s at a time of great unrest and debates among women against oppression and inequality. In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. The next year, the Socialist Party of America observed the first National Woman’s Day across the United States on February 28, 1909. Women continued to celebrate it on the last Sunday of February until 1913.

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Simultaneously, in 1910, the second International Conference of Working Women was held in Denmark’s Copenhagen, where Clara Zetkin, who led the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She proposed that every year, every country should celebrate on the same day to press for their demands. The conference with over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, and working women’s clubs greeted Zetkin’s suggestion unanimously.

On March 9, 1911, International Women’s Day was honoured for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. More than one million women and men attended the rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination.

However, less than a week later, on March 25, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire took place in New York City where more than 140 women and girls died, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. One of the deadliest fires in the history of the United States, it drew significant attention to the working conditions and labour legislation in the country and became a focal point of the subsequent International Women’s Day events.

Meanwhile in Russia, on the eve of World War I, women observed their first International Women’s Day on February 23, the last Sunday in February, with a strike for “bread and peace” to protest the death of over two million Russian soldiers. While it was February 23 on the Julian calendar used then in Russia, according to the Gregorian calendar, it was March 8. Since then it has remained the global date for International Women’s Day as many women across Europe started protesting and raising their demands on that date.

In the United Nations, it was celebrated for the first time in 1975, and in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by the Member States in accordance with their historical and national traditions.

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In 1996, the UN announced their first annual theme — “Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future”, followed by “Women at the Peace table” in 1997. In 1998 “Women and Human Rights”, in 1999 “World Free of Violence Against Women”, each year had a new theme. Campaign themes over the years have also included: #ChooseToChallenge, #EachforEqual, #BalanceforBetter, #PressforProgress, #BeBoldforChange, #PledgeforParity, #MakeItHappen, #TheGenderAgenda and many more.

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