Happy International Women’s Day! Every year on March 8 (appropriately, considering March is Women’s History Month!), the world recognizes the struggles and achievements women have made globally. We think it’s more than deserved — but most people don’t have a lot of background on the actual day — and the history behind it is actually pretty cool!
In 1909, the United States celebrated the first National Women’s Day on February 28 under the Socialist Party of America (though the exact date wasn’t set in stone — it was held the last Sunday of each February, similar to how Thanksgiving is on the last Thursday of each November). The movement gained global ground quickly, and by 1910 an International Women’s Conference was held in Copenhagen. At the conference, 100 women from 17 countries met up and agreed that an International Woman’s Day (they used the singular form back in the day!) would be a great way to draw attention to causes like equal rights and suffrage (the right to vote).
The plan worked, and on March 18, 1911, over 1 million people throughout Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland recognized the very first International Women’s Day, with more than 300 demonstrations just in the Austro-Hungarian Empire alone! Good work, ladies! The protests varied, but the themes were common throughout: women wanted equal rights, equal pay, the ability to vote, and to end sex discrimination in the workplace. (You wouldn’t believe what women back in the day had to deal with — and what many, unfortunately, still do.)
Russia got in on the action in 1913, also celebrating the last Sunday of February. Fun fact: the 1917 International Women’s Day in Russia had special significance, because it also marked the February Revolution when Tsar Nicholas II was overthrown. Double whammy! Alexandra Kollontai, a Bolshevik who went on to become the first female government minister in Europe (go girl!), persuaded then-dictator Vladimir Lenin to make it an official holiday. While it was recognized, it remained a working day until 1965.
Following Russian’s adoption of the holiday, other Communist and Socialist nations began to follow suit. China recognized International Women’s Day in 1922, with Spanish Communists joining in starting in 1936. In 1949, China became the first country to declare March 8 as the permanent date for International Women’s Day — and that it would be a half-day for workers. Pretty sweet deal!
The rest of the world quickly followed China’s lead, and in 1977, the United Nations declared March 8 U.N. Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.
Recently, each International Women’s Day has drawn attention to specific causes worldwide. In 2010, focus was placed on displaced women caught in armed conflicts and the hardships they’re forced to endure. In 2011, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the first International Women’s Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton started her “100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges.” Leading up to the centennial, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also recognized the event, drawing attention to rape and sexual violence prevention in war torn areas. Australia even issued a commemorative coin to mark the occasion!
International Women’s Day 2012 is focused on “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty.” The program recognizes that 25% of the population of women on the planet live outside of major cities and often denied basic rights and opportunities based on their gender — despite their work in farming being crucial to the global economy. You can learn more about Empower Rural Women here — and you can celebrate International Women’s Day by sending this cute e-card from Oxfam to your bestie, mom, and sister here.
Are you celebrating International Women’s Day? Who’s your favorite female role model? Let us know in the comments!