Although 1914 marked the first year in which women observed their International Day on March 8 – probably, because it was a Sunday – it was not the first year in which women had been united on a specific date internationally to commemorate women’s achievements and/or to demonstrate against sex discrimination and in favour of the social, political, legal, economic, and cultural equality of both sexes.
In 1908, a group mostly of women walked out of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York in protest of the miserable working conditions and lack of safety at their work place. It sparked a massive protest wave of thousands of garment workers – by majority young women – to which factory owners and public officials reacted with brutal reprisals. (Read more about these strikes, the terrible fire of 1911 at the Trial Shirtwaist Factory, consequence of neglect, and New York’s subsequent law reform.) On 28 February 1909, the city saw a first Women’s Day commemoration, organised by the Socialist Party of New York, in remembrance of the strikes a year earlier.
At the Second International Socialist Women’s Conference in Copenhagen (26.-27.08.1910), the German socialist Luise Zietz, inspired by the American Socialists’ example, suggested the annual observance of an “International (Working) Women’s Day”, which, after being seconded by the socialist Clara Zetkin, was accepted by the 100 women delegates from 17 countries as a welcome strategy to promote the various causes of women. On 19 March 1911, over a million people in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland celebrated the first official IWD with organised protest marches against the discrimination of women. From 1914 on, IWD settled on March 8 in most participating countries. In 1917, women’s protest marches for “Bread and Peace” in St. Petersburg on 23 February (then still by the Julian Calendar, corresponding to 8 March by the Gregorian Calendar) led to the February Revolution. After the October Revolution in the same year, IWD was regularly observed in communist and socialist states.
In 1975, the beginning of the International Women’s Decade (1975-85), the UN celebrated IWD for the first time, and in 1977 it invited member nations to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. Read more here.
Today, March 8 is celebrated in a variety of ways worldwide, depending on the situation of women in a specific culture. In some countries it is a national holiday (e.g. Russia, Ukraine, China [for women], Angola), in others it offers occasions for women to take stock of their situation, demonstrate, honour special women/events and respective achievements, etc. The UN theme for this year’s IWD is: “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”.
Some examples of plans for today:
Catch glimpses of a day in the life of women, and read about their contributions at UN WOMEN.