Today marks the 101st International Women’s Day around the globe. Communities use the day across the world to press demands on governments, promote gender equality, raise awareness about women’s oppression, celebrate mothers, and more. Given that this day has so much significance worldwide, it is worth knowing how the movement was started. Consider it another item in your feminist history repertoire.
International Women’s Day was originally created by a group of international Suffragists to recognize their work and to press demands on their respective governments. The holiday was proposed at the second International Conference of Working Women, a Socialist conference held in Denmark, at which over 100 women from 17 countries attended.
The effort was most strongly headed by European feminists. Interestingly, International Women’s Day was originally held on March 19th, due to the date being significant to the original organizers because of it being the anniversary of the day that the Prussian king, during the 1848 revolution, promised to grant women the right to vote.
The king later reneged on his promise and the 19th was no longer important. In 1913 International Women’s Day was moved to the March 8th, where it has remained ever since.
At first the day was most widely observed in Europe but quickly spread globally. It is now an official national holiday in many countries including China, Russia, Bulgaria and Uzbekistan. While the overall purpose is the same, each country has a unique history with the holiday:
- In 1949 The People’s Republic of China declared that IWM would not only be observed, but that women would be given half a day off work on March 8th.
- In Italy women are given yellow mimosas (the flower, not the drink) on International Women’s Day (They call it La Festa Della Donna–isn’t that lovely?).
- After the fall of the Soviet Union the Armenian government officially put an end to International Women’s Day, instead declaring April 7th “Beauty of Motherhood” Day (eye roll anyone?). Despite their tossing of the holiday, the public continues to celebrate on March 8th with the rest of the world, and in fact observes an entire month, called “Women’s Days,” from March 8th to April 7th.
- Women in Pakistan have a long history of using the day to hold public demonstrations to raise awareness for the inequalities facing women in their country.
In 1975 the United Nations officially recognized International Women’s Day (don’t’ ask me what took them so long…). Since then they have selected a theme each year. The 2012 theme is “Empower Rural Women—End Hunger and Poverty.”
And now you know the rest of the story!
Happy International Women’s Day everyone!
Janice is a Virtual Assistant, aspiring doula, and long-time feminist activist with a passion for women's history, nonfiction, nature, and wearing flowers in her hair. She is the Founder of The Feminist's Guide, a women's history travel website, which can be found at www.thefeministguide.com.