In Depth

What is International Women’s Day?

The day dedicated to the achievements of women has been celebrated for over a century

Tomorrow marks International Women’s Day, also known as IWD, an event celebrated around the world for more than a century to highlight the achievements of women.

Celebrated annually on 8 March, the day is dedicated to the “social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women” but also calls for more action to be taken on improving gender equality. In particular, it calls for “accelerating gender parity”, according to the International Women’s Day site.

What are the origins of IWD?

IWD “grew out of the labour movement to become an annual event recognised by the United Nations”, explained the BBC.

The “seeds” of the international celebration were sown in 1908, when “15,000 women marched through New York demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote”. The next year, the first National Woman’s Day was announced by the Socialist Party of America.

Clara Zetkin, a German communist and women’s rights activist born in 1857, came up with the idea of an international day for women at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen in 1910 – “and the 100 women there, from 17 countries, agreed to it unanimously”, said the BBC.

As a result IWD was first celebrated in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, making this year, technically, the 111th International Women’s Day. But the day was only officially recognised by the United Nations in 1975.

It is a national holiday in several countries including Russia, “where flower sales double” in the days before the event, as well as in China, where women are given half a day off work. 

This year’s IWD theme

The UN has said that the theme for 2022 is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, which is aimed at “recognizing the contribution of women and girls around the world, who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, to build a more sustainable future for all”, according to UN Women.

“Women are increasingly being recognized as more vulnerable to climate change impacts than men, as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent on the natural resources which climate change threatens the most,” said the website. 

“At the same time, women and girls are effective and powerful leaders and change-makers for climate adaptation and mitigation. They are involved in sustainability initiatives around the world, and their participation and leadership results in more effective climate action.” 

A second theme chosen by the International Women’s Day website is  #BreakTheBias, which asks people to imagine “a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination”.

UK-based events

A virtual panel with UN leaders, climate activists and celebrities will be hosted by the UN on 8 March.

Across the UK, a host of events will be taking place. One of the biggest is the WOW: Women of the World festival at London’s Southbank Centre, which claims to be the “world’s biggest, most comprehensive festival celebrating women, girls and non-binary people”.

The BFI Southbank is running a film season from 3 to 15 March called The Camera Is Ours: Britain’s Women Documentary Makers, including pioneering works from Ruby and Marion Grierson, Evelyn Spice and Muriel Box. 

The National Gallery is also hosting a series of online events celebrating women in the arts, including a forum exploring the way women artists have interacted with the national collection, and a lecture examining the role played by art historian Anna Jameson in the reception of Raphael’s work in the 19th century.

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